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Hans Theessink Hans Theessink

Body & Soul

The Blues



Dutch musician and performer Hans Theessink (pronounced Tay-sink) dedicated himself, body and soul, to American blues and roots music? Hank has become one of the most sought-after artists of the international blues scene. Constantly "on tour" he is a modern day troubadour spellbinding audiences all around the world with his rich and emotional sounds.

In the 60's a love of the Blues took hold of the man whom Bo Diddley described as "one helluva guitar player", and it has not let him go since. I took the opportunity to talk to Hans about his career and asked him about this high praise that Bo Diddley had heaped on him.

HT: I did quite a few tours with Bo in Europe and USA in the 80's. He was fun to be around - always very inventive. Bo has a great personal style of playing - in a way quite simple but very effective. He tunes in open E (heavy- heavy strings) and uses the capo if he needs another key. I would usually do a solo opening set and then join him and the band for some numbers. That's when he introduced me as "One helluva guitar player". Actually Bo's first instrument was the violin - he was taught by a  Hans Theessink BandHungarian teacher. On one of the tours I gave him a fiddle and it was amazing to see Bo Diddley play a rhapsody! Whenever we meet these days, he still talks about that fiddle that he still picks up every now and then.

Tell me what drew you to blues music and who were your early influences in the music.

HT: I was into guitars already - more the folky stuff. When I heard Big Bill Broonzy for the first time on late night radio back home in Holland, I was sold on the spot. To me that was a "chicken skin" experience and I was blown away by the emotional impact of one voice - one guitar. It wasn't easy to learn that acoustic blues style back in the 60's (or any style for that matter - no teachers, books or videos like today) so my first blues concert really was a revelation for me - when I saw Brownie McGhee play. I got into the blues as a folkie and my main influences were the folk blues people. I'd say Leadbelly was a big influence too.

What started you playing professionally as a full time musician?

HT: I had never really thought of music as a career but at some point people paid me a few guilders to come and play some songs - that sort of started it off. In the beginning it wasn't easy to make a living but now I'm happy that my hobby turned into a job. I couldn't think of a better way to make a living

What type of venues are you mostly working in now?

HT: Wherever people will book me. Anything from small intimate clubs to big halls and huge festival stages. I do enjoy the intimate places but it's also a ball playing on big stages with huge sound systems.

You've played at a host of American jazz and folk festivals, have you played any of the British festivals, particularly our prestigious Cambridge Folk festival.

HT: I've played loads of UK festivals over the years - also did Cambridge a few times. When Ken Woolard was running the festival he booked me but I haven't played Cambridge lately. Would like to do it again some time though. I'm off to Australia and New Zealand for most of the rest of 2004 and my first festival in the UK will be Celtic Connections in Glasgow end of January. I think I've been booked at Trowbridge too next summer.

You have just release a new album…isn't this your 12th album release? It's called Bridges…why that choice of title.

HT: If I count right it's number 18. Bridges is a pretty symbolic title and whatever people want to put into it is fine with me. One song on the album is called Bridges. I was thinking of the collaboration in my band between people from such different places as Europe and Africa. Also I was thinking of bridges that got destroyed during the wars in ex-Yugoslavia and that need the be rebuild. War-makers will always try to destroy bridges and ways to connect. "What will the children play" is a song on the album that deals with that war syndrome. Also I think it's important for people to "cross bridges" to see what's happening "on the other side"

Let's talk about the new album…all but two songs have been written by yourself. Did you write those songs particularly for the album?

HT: Some of the songs I had had laying around for a while but most of the songs I wrote specifically for the Bridges project and with the singers from Zimbabwe and their vocal possibilities in mind.

CD coverWhat was the deciding factor in choosing the other two songs…Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and Solomon Linda's "Mbube"

HT: "People Get Ready" is a long time favourite of mine and I thought that this band line-up would do the song justice. Solomon Linda's "Mbube" aka. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is a song that Insingizi (the singers from Zimbabwe) brought in - "Mbube" was the first song in that specific singing style that they took to and have become masters of. Also after all the copyright discussion about the song I thought it would be nice to actually mention the person that wrote it. Of all the millions of dollars that that song made Solomon Linda or his estate never saw a cent.

I get the feeling that some of the songs lean a little on the inspirational side. Was this a conscience decision or is it just a case of some of the songs fell that side of the fence.

HT: It wasn't really a conscious decision - just happened that way. I went through a period with personal losses which reflects in a song like "Circles" (I personally think that song came out really well) so maybe my general mood was more on the inspirational side when I wrote most of the songs.

The album was recorded in an old church in Tuscany. Can you tell us more about this………why you chose this kind of venue to record in.

HT: Friends of mine own the church at Monte Antico and started a sort of artistic, cultural place in it. The church is used by painters, sculptors, poets and musicians alike. On my first visit I noticed the fantastic natural acoustics in this old building and the idea was born to record there one day - just the natural sound without digital reverbs and bits 'n bytes. That's what we did: we had to bring all the equipment in - we used loads of microphones (sponsored by RODE) to record the music in the natural rooms. When I listen to the CD (actually hybrid a SACD =Super Audio CD) I can sort of sense the beautiful old building. Of course the place was also quite an inspiring environment. The band sort of lived and recorded together for 10 days.

recording studio

Tell me a little about the guys that play in you band…….I presume that you carry a regular band as you're averaging around 200 concerts a year.

HT: I do play lots of solo gigs too. The album before Bridges was "Songs From The Southland" (2003) which is more or less a solo album. Most of my UK tours are solo. Sometimes I have projects with other people - I do a duo sometimes with Dobro and lapsteel player Cindy Cashdollar (Asleep at the wheel a.o.); lots of slide there! and there's also a trio in Denmark that I work with. My band at the moment is the band that can be heard on "Bridges". Even though I play a lot of blues I wasn't trying to put a blues band together; I just found the people that I like to play with and they all love to play. All the musicians are Austrian and they all have a long pedigree in the Austrian rock-, jazz- and pop scene. I need a "not too loud" drummer that can play with brushes and a bass player that plays electric and upright bass. The keyboard man is quite a wizard on piano and Hammond organ and accordion too. The 3 African singers are also part of the "Hans Theessink Band". At the moment we're working on a DVD with a live show - hopefully that will be released by the end of the year.

Thanks for your time Hans. I'm sure our readers are going to look forward to seeing you performing in the UK in the New Year.

HT: Celtic Connections in Glasgow is the first opportunity to hear the band (that's end of January 2005). I think there will be a few more things coming up for the band. I'll do a longish solo tour again in October/November 2005.

Thanks Hans!!!

Check Hans' website: www.theessink.com 


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