Big Head Todd: "I Was a Dumb Idiot" About Robert Johnson
Big Head Todd
There has always been a bluesy edge to Big Head Todd & The Monsters' ever-expanding sound. Now, more than 30 years after forming in Boulder, Colorado, the band's 2014 blues-infused Black Beehive and the recent Live at Red Rocks June 6, 2015, serve as strong affirmation of the band's roots.
Initially, the band was more a power pop group flitting on the edge of the fledgling jam-band scene, and the blues base inherent in all rock 'n' roll was buried in band leader/guitarist Todd Park Mohr's often soulful songwriting. His initial introduction to music came via soul artists Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, which may explain some of the sweet arrangements found in the band's early material. That said, it took some time for Mohr to accept his true calling.
"You know, I hated Elvis Costello for a long time when he first came out because I was wanting synth music and new wave," Mohr says with a laugh from his Colorado home. "It's funny how we reject certain things. In my life, it's been about opening up to a lot of things I initially didn't accept."
That includes the blues. Once Mohr discovered the electric blues, his musical path was assured. Yet he still shunned acoustic blues, particularly the artist many blues icons — most notably Eric Clapton — swear by: Robert Johnson.
"Robert Johnson, [this] was an era of blues I really kind of rejected early on . . . because I was a dumb idiot," he says with another laugh. "I had a hard time relating to the scratchiness of the recordings, the high voice. It just didn't grab me initially and I didn't understand it, so I didn't enjoy listening to it. I didn't realize what was there."
That changed in 2011 when BHTM and numerous guests — dubbed Big Head Blues Club — created an album of Robert Johnson songs in celebration of Johnson's 100th birthday.
"I got a new education in the blues," he admits, noting the blues later dominated Black Beehive. Live at Red Rocks spans the band's whole career, capturing the bigger hits such as "Bittersweet" and "Sister Sweetly" and a few lesser-known gems, including "Fortune Teller" and "Imaginary Ships." A hot cover of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop" opens the show, while the Rolling Stones' "Bitch" is a roaring centerpiece. Throughout, the energy is palpable. Mohr says the live experience is a true representation of what the band offers.
"We consider ourselves more as a live band than a studio band by far, especially considering the amount of live shows we play," he says. "We focus on playing with each other. I think we're getting better at it."
Thirty years on, Big Head Todd & The Monsters plan to keep making music "until I can't do it anymore," Mohr laughs. The difference going forward: fewer albums, more singles — though always plenty of concerts.
"I'm a fan of albums. The long form is a great thing when you have a group of songs that belong together for one sitting. But the industry is geared more for singles," Mohr says. "What I like about singles is that I don't have to write a whole album. It's very liberating to look at a great idea for a song and pursue it. And to have the freedom to work that way is really fun for me. To work on two songs that have hit potential rather than 10 songs with two that have hit potential is a much more fun way to work."
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