Interview by Aaron Porter for Buddy Guy’s Legends Bluesletter
Eric Noden has been a staple at Legends and for good reason. His smooth blend of Blues, Folk and quietly, powerful voice pulls you in so completely, Noden is a true Bluesman who holds on to the beliefs of his Blues ancestors: that the music is to be shared, passed on, and loved.
Bluesletter: I read somewhere that you were in a rock band?
Eric Noden: I was in a few garage rock bands early on, I started off on electric guitar when I was young, but when I was a teenager I got into classical guitar and studied that pretty intensely for about 7 years. Then I had an electric Blues band for a while but I got kind of burnt out on depending on other people all the time.
BL: That seems to be a pretty common trend among the community, having difficulty arranging schedules to meet the needs of the band,
EN: Right, I had known about acoustic Blues for a while, my dad plays a lot of that kind of stuff as a hobby and also had a great record collection. When I was 19 I rediscovered the acoustic finger-style blues and it really appealed to me, the idea of the solo Blues guy traveling around. I like the fact you have to fill a lot of space. You have to be the whole band.
BL: Be a little more versatile?
EN: Yeah, you know guitar wise if you’re playing solo, you have to play the bass part and melodic parts, it’s just a different style, in some ways similar to what a classical guitar player does, playing more than one part at the same time.
BL: So, deciding to become an acoustic player was a conscious decision?
EN: It was, I was really hypnotized by that whole 20’s and 30’s Blues sound, you know John Hurt, Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. Those old records just really fascinated me and I really wanted to figure out how those guys got the sound that they did. It sounded like 2 or 3 guitars to me when it was only one guy playing.
BL: You mentioned playing with other people, are you still playing with Joe Filisko?
EN: Yes, I play with Joe quite often; he’s a virtuoso harmonica player, we do quite a bit of playing in Europe, all over the place really. We try to make a huge sound with just the guitar and harmonica and vocals.
BL: I saw a video of the two of you playing the song “River of Jordan” and you play a pretty strong harmonica, do you consider that your secondary instrument after the guitar?
EN: Yes harmonica and piano are my secondary instruments. Harmonica has such a great vocal like quality in the blues. It also can create some killer rhythms in the right hands. I rarely play it though because I work a lot with harp players.
BL: I was curious about that, because I’ve seen most of the time when you’re playing with other people they’re playing the harp is that a preference of yours?
EN: Definitely, I think it’s a good combination with the 20’s and 30’s style Blues.
BL: Is your family musically inclined as well?
EN: Yes, my dad has always enjoyed playing guitar and singing, more of a hobby really. Also, my grandfather was a singer, he would often sing at parties and stuff like that, mostly for kicks, but he had a really great voice, a powerful voice. They’re the ones who got me into music initially. My dad used to have an old Kay guitar laying around and I used to mess around with it.
BL: I read in a few interviews that people had referred to your music as you finding a niche in the Chicago scene. Do you feel like that down plays your musical talent or that they assume you’ve chosen that era specifically stand out?
EN: I don’t think it down plays anything, I’m really comfortable with it and I think that the music I play fits into a few different categories and I think that great for me in terms of playing in different types of venues, some Blues festivals, Blues clubs, as well as Folk, Roots and other acoustic oriented venues.
BL: You’ve released 5 albums so far correct?
EN: Actually it’s 6! I’ve got 3 solo CD’s, 2 CD’s with Joe Filisko, and one CD with the Sanctified Grumblers.
BL: Oh, that’s right I wanted to ask you about that. How and when did you end up becoming a part of Sanctified Grumblers?
EN: Well, I’ve known Rick Sherry for a long time over 10 years, and I used to sub for the guitar player in Devil in a Woodpile occasionally. We had done a lot of gigs over the years here and there because we had a lot in common musically. About 2 or 3 years ago when Devil in a Woodpile dissolved, we started getting together and decided to create this new project and that’s what became Sanctified Grumblers. One thing that makes this band unique is the fact that we have written a bunch of material that sounds old but is really new.
BL: Of those six albums is one in particular that you like the best or that is closest to your heart?
EN: Mmm wow… that’s a tough one.
BL: (Laughs) It is a tough one, it’s like asking who’s your favorite kid!
EN: Exactly, man, it’s hard to say. I feel pretty good about all of them because I’ve put a lot into each one, you know. I guess I feel like, what ever the newest thing is, is my favorite. (Laughs) None of them make me cringe I’ll say that!
BL: Have you been involved in any other projects recently?
EN: I have, I produced a CD for the Electro-fi label out of Canada, for the artist Billy Boy Arnold. It’s a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy, “Billy Boy Arnold Sings Big Bill Broonzy”. I’m really excited about this CD, I arranged for an acoustic backing band behind Billy Boy, Rick Sherry (washboard, clarinet), Beau Sample (upright bass) and myself on guitar as well as Billy Flynn on mandolin and electric guitar.
BL: Producer is a much different hat to wear than artist.
Eric: It is, but a lot of it is organizing things and making sure everything goes as smoothly as possible for the musicians. I enjoyed it, I worked really closely with Billy Boy to pick the songs and make the arrangements. It was a really cool project to be involved with because Billy Boy is one of my blues heros.
BL: You also teach at the Old Town School of Folk Music?
Town School. I specialize in finger-style acoustic blues. I’ve also created a blues in the schools program that I’ve been teaching in collaboration with Stone Academy and the Chicago Blues Fest since 1996. Each year 4th graders from Stone Academy kick off the Blues Fest using jug band instruments including wash-tub bass, kazoo and washboard.
BL: Why do you feel it is important for you to be an educator?
EN: That’s a good question, I had a lot of influence from my parents they were both public school teachers. That was definitely part of the influence, but I love sharing things with people, and I’ve found that it’s a really great way to break down the music and define what I know. It’s also rewarding for me to open up doors for other people.
BL: You dabble in other artistic outlets as well correct?
EN: True. I have done some acting and musical theater in the last few years. Most recently I was in a play called “Chasin’ Dem Blues” written and directed by Kevin Ramsey. The show played at the Delaware Theater Company in Wilmington, Delaware.
BL: What is one of the best compliments you’ve ever received professionally?
EN: Well, I was playing an acoustic set at Legends a few years back and Buddy happened to be there. When I got off stage he said to me “ Do You play here every Friday?” I said “not every Friday” then he said “ You sound good, I’m gonna bring my acoustic guitar by and sit in with you sometime”
BL: That’s pretty cool!
EN: Yea man, it was very cool.
BL: What’s next for Eric Noden?
EN: I’m working on a new CD with Joe Filisko. I have another European tour coming up this fall, Germany, Sweden, France and England.