It was January, 1997 when Carl Weathersby picked up his guitar and left Billy Branch's Sons of Blues. Weathersby was tired of getting second billing to Branch while feeling that he was working harder onstage than his boss.
Since that time, Weathersby has seen the release of his second solo album on the Evidence Records label, entitled "Looking Out My Window," and he's preparing to enter the studio in May to record a third disc for Evidence.
Weathersby's tour schedule these days is almost full. He says he's gigging about five days a week in the eastern half of the U.S.
While babysitting his young nephew at his East Chicago, Ind. home on the afternoon of April 1, 1998, the kind, yet outspoken Weathersby took time to talk to Blues/Soul Scene about his background, history with SOBs and his new solo career.
"Things have been goin' pretty good since I left the SOBs," Weathersby says. "I've been playin' from Minnesota back to the East Coast. We've been to Philadelphia, Montreal, then on down into the Carolinas."
Weathersby says that since his days with the SOBs, he's seen little of Branch. "My path hasn't crossed his," Weathersby said. "I've been out of town a lot. This is the first weekend I've been off. I haven't seen anybody in Chicago. I gotta worry about what I'm doin."
Weathersby says he is looking forward to this summer, a time when he and his band have a full slate of summer festivals to play.
"We're finalizing this now, but we plan to go maybe as far away as Istanbul, Turkey" he says. "And we have a few European tours planned for this fall."
Weathersby says his soulful style of playing has changed little from his days with the SOBs. "It's just that I didn't fit in with the SOBs," he says.
Weathersby is also kept busy these days preparing material for his recording session for Evidence next month.
"We'll go into the studio in Lousiana," he says. "Every time I go in to record it's always different. This time we have a bigger budget, so I'll have horns there. A lot of people don't like it when you use horns, but nothing really inspires me to play more than horns."
Irritation can be heard in Weathersby's voice when he mentions the recent Grammy and W.C. Handy Awards. He wasn't even nominated for any of his efforts.
"I got blanked on all the Grammy's, the Handy's," he says. "It's a popularity contest and I haven't been on the road too long. People vote for who they know about. I don't believe anyone who won or even who got nominated could follow me on the stage. I have original material. It's a political game and I'm not a politician. I show up and do what I do. I'm not trying to make friends, I got enough of them. I don't want to become an ass kisser. I don't want my nose any browner than it already is."
Carlton Weathersby was born on February 24, 1953, at St. Dominic's Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. His father worked in Jackson for the Coca-Cola company, and in the fall of 1953, the elder Weathersby decided to move his family to Meadeville in Franklin County in the extreme southwestern part of the state. Weathersby recalls that he had a rural upbringing until he was in his early teens.
"At the age of 13, I moved with my parents to East Chicago, Indiana. So I did half and half, you know, rural and urban upbringing," he recalls. "East Chicago was close enough to Chicago to be city, or urban, but most of the people there were from down South, so it was like bein' down South in a big city surroundin'. Every time we was out of school, we'd go back and stay down there. Even to this day, man, I would rather live down there than here. It was just, the things that you did to have fun, you know. I remember havin' more fun down there. Movin' up here was somethin' that I didn't really want to do, but I had no choice in the matter. I had to come, you know. My parents wanted me up here, so I came to the city and just dealt with it, you know. But I would rather be down in the South, even to this day."
When asked if he will ever move back to the South, Weathersby says he hopes to, but that "Chicago is the place that you gotta be to be playin' blues if you're not a big star, you know...I'm playin' the blues and I'm not a big star, so I gotta be around here, you know, to make ends meet. If I go down there, I'll have to haul logs or somethin' like that and playin' whenever I got a chance, and I done that already, you know. I could go if I retired from a job, but I've never heard tell of a bluesman retiring. Maybe one day I can get far enough into music where I'll just have to play on a Friday and Saturday and if so, yeah, I can hang out down there somewhere around Jackson or a little outside of Jackson. But my wife wouldn't be able to stand it out in the country where I come from. She wouldn't be able to take that."
Weathersby credits much of his diverse musical style to his years as boy growing up around blues and soul.
"I just happened to come along at a real good time, you know," Weathersby says. "I come along, man, when Motown was nailin', The Temptations was doin' something every week."
Weathersby says he also enjoyed listening to The O'Jays, Tyrone Davis, Johnny Taylor and Sam Cooke.
"And then I be around my relatives," he says. "And Albert King had things out like 'Born Under a Bad Sign,' 'Crosscut Saw' and later, 'I'll Play the Blues For You.' Then Little Milton had 'Feel So Bad,' and 'Little Blue Bird' and all this different stuff that you could listen to. So if you listen to this stuff and you play music, quite naturally, you're going to try to do some of it. So I got all these different influences, but it was all just stuff that was there on the radio and bein' around it."
Weathersby recalls also that legendary blues pianist Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston, a relative, would show up occasionally to entertain at his family functions. Weathersby doesn't cite Caston as a major influence. However, he recalls that the last time he saw Caston was when the older man performed at a family funeral in the early 1970s. Caston died in 1987.
"Tyrone Davis probably had the style I liked best," Weathersby continues. "The stylin' that he had, it was good for me, and now I've come to know him. A lot of the blues guys, you know who they are, and that's it. But I kinda know Tyrone Davis and he knows who I am and when I see him, he'll talk with me and I ask him things about this music business because he's been through it all, you know. And whenever we play on a concert with him or we're in the general area where he's at, I'm on the side of the stage watchin, because it's exciting to me."
Weathersby, known for his guitar slinging, began his musical life as a drummer. "My father's brothers, his two youngest brothers, were drummers and they had drums around the house, you know, and it wasn't such a big deal messin' with the drums as it was messin' with my grandfather's guitar, you know. He'd say 'Boy, you'll break that guitar!' The drums, well, I guess they made 'em for you to hit on 'em, so you just get 'em and leave on out of the house and go into the woods. You didn't have to go too far. As long as they heard the drums playin' they knew you was alright and you was far enough away where you wasn't botherin' anybody, you know."
When Weathersby moved north for the first time, he recalls that he was already a good drummer.
"They was doin' somethin' at the school one day and I just went down and started playin' the one snare drum and the teacher, the guy says, 'Wait a minute, where you been takin' music?' I told him 'I never took music.' Well, they put me in the school band, playin' drums, and I was like, in the seventh grade, and was beatin' with these high school kids and I started gettin' in bands."
Weathersby switched from drums to guitar after he realized that more girls noticed guitar players who were on stage.
"You play drums all night long and you come down, nobody would believe you was in the band because they couldn't see you. You had these big bands -- four singers, keyboard player, horns, and all that stuff. So I decided to make the switch to guitar when I was about 13, somewhere in there," he says.
Weathersby recalls that the first time he tried to play a guitar, he was able to squeeze out some Jimmy Reed songs and advanced on the instrument with the help of several mentors.
"I learned, you know, watchin' the guys, different older guys play," he says. "And there was an old man that lived around us, his name was Robert Edmund that was pretty good at playin' that Lightnin' Hopkins-style stuff. This was in East Chicago and I was about 13 or 14. So I watched him and when I started to try to pick it up, you know, they'd see you doin' somethin' that wasn't quite right, or saw you doin' it and you just about had it but didn't have it, they would tell you 'Hey, no, hit it over here.' So, you know, with the help of him, I started learnin' blues again, which I could play on the drums only with my grandfather."
Weathersby remembers that not many youths his age were interested in learning to play blues guitar in the late 1960s and Weathersby's interest in the music of his elders impressed them.
"And down the street was guy named John Scott, and I have not, to this day, heard anybody that sounded as much like B.B. King as John Scott. John Scott had a lot of kids and he couldn't just stop takin' care of his kids and workin' his job and play music, so he just played music on the side as he fixed cars and worked in the mills. And, you know, a guy my age who wanted to learn how to play blues, you know, kinda blew him away, because his sons totally resisted the blues. They was playin' everything but the blues. So I would go down and him and my father would work on cars. John did the mechanic work and my father would do the body work. And then, you know, anytime things got a little slow around there, I would start buggin' him about showin' me somethin' on the guitar, you know. And, boy, I remember when I first started askin' him, I'd say 'I can't play all that old War and all that other stuff. I want to learn to play that B.B. King and Albert King stuff.' And, you know, he was showin' me."
Weathersby remembers that Albert King was also his teacher in the late 1960s.
"There was a guy named Albert, a big old tall guy that used to come around sometimes, you know, every two or three months, sometimes four times a year he would show up. And when he came around, you'd notice your father would be gone almost all night, and I'd say 'Man, I don't know who this Albert guy is.'
And I'm sittin' there tryin' to learn these Albert King records, but this guy that used to come by the house -- with no way of knowin' that this was Albert King because in those days they sold 45's, you know with no pictures. You'd get a 45 and you'd play it and there was no way to associate the person that did it with an album.
So I was sittin' in there one day tryin' to play 'Cross-Cut Saw' and I told my old man, I said, 'I think I got it, dad.' And I hear, 'No, that ain't the way I played it.' It was this Albert. And I said, 'What do you mean, that ain't the way you played it?" He said, 'Boy, you don't know who I am? What's my name?" I said 'Albert.' He said, 'Albert what?' I said, 'I don't know.' He said, "I'm Albert King and that's me on that record over there. And I was like,'Wow!'
And then he took the guitar and played "Cross-Cut Saw" as best he could on my guitar. But I mean I had one of them el cheapos, but he played that song on that guitar. And I was like 'Man, I got a long way to go.' And I almost quit playin' there, but he told me, he said, 'Just keep playin' it. You'll get it. You'll get it.' And he was right. It just seemed like it was going to take forever.
And after that, you know, I'd be kinda waitin' and when I'd see Albert King -- I'd be lookin' around, listenin', readin' the paper to see if I could see anything on him -- and sometimes he would be in Chicago and I'd be waitin' for him to come by. And you know, every time he had time he would come by -- pull up in the alley and blow his horn and talk, you know, a little bit."
King eventually hired Weathersby as his backing guitarist in 1979, and Weathersby worked with the legend during three separate stints that lasted through 1981.
"That was like bein' a sponge in the ocean," says Weathersby. "You could just grab everything that comes by and just pull it in. But then I quit. The job got to be a little nerve wrackin'. From what I've been seein', the average musician always tried to get out of doin' as much as they can, even though 100 percent is demanded of you, they want to do 99, so if you had that type of mentality and you were around Albert King, your life was destined to be miserable because you had to do exactly what was expected of you. And a lot of times, people just caught it. Bein' in that band, there was such a great turnover of musicians. Man, it just got to be a headache, because after bein' there a matter of a month, you were the only guy in the band that was there in April -- and it's May now. So now you're the only one that knows what's goin' on, or supposedly knows what's goin' on, and you gotta teach these other guys and it just gets to be too big of a hassle, so I stopped. I went back two or three different times, but every time I just played as long as I could, until it got to be too big a hassle and I stopped."
In addition to Albert King, Weathersby toured with Little Milton.
Before he became a professional musician 17 years ago, Weathersby worked a variety of jobs in the North and South. He is also another Chicago blues musician who is a Vietnam War veteran. He served in the U.S. Army from 1971 through 1977.
"With my time in Vietnam, now that it's over, I'm glad I did it, because I found out a lot about myself. I found out what I could do if I had to. I know if I had to protect myself or my kids or anything like that, I'd have no problem doin' whatever I had to do...you know if it came down to eatin' a guy's arm off his body, you know, I could do it if I had to. You find out a lot about yourself, man, when you get put somewhere and your back is up against a wall. That's one time when your back truly was against the wall and you'd find out that some guys would freeze, some guys would react without thinkin'. So you find out a lot about yourself just by bein' in the military in general. It grows you up.
"A lot of musicians should have been in the military," he adds. "Maybe not in the war, but just in the military. You know, that might make them get up off their butts and do somethin', because the average one is never awake before 2 o'clock in the evenin'...And this attitude was hard for me to adjust to. They're playin' and can't do this and don't want to do that. That was a big adjustment man. I had to gear myself down and I really haven't managed to do that. But then I started thinkin', well if I start not caring, or toleratin' this stuff, before long, I'll become that way and if I do, I'm doomed. " Weathersby admits that he found it difficult to reconnect to civilian life in the United States after his service in Vietnam.
"I had to re-adjust to...to society," he says. "I got to be a wild guy and I didn't believe much. A guy might come and tell me some stuff, 'Yeah, O.K buddy.' Bam! And I'd have to come home and drop other people's guns on my dresser because I used knock guys out and take 'em from 'em and stuff like that. If I seem like an easy goin' guy, I can be just as hard. I can be just as wild as I can be nice. If I decide 'Wham! Boom!' You was knocked out. I was a nice guy all the time, but at the same time, I took no chances and I tolerated bullshit not at all. And now, at times, just as nice as I am, I can step just that far over on the other side. I don't like to do it, but sometimes there just ain't no other way."
After returning to the U.S. after the war, Weathersby took a job as a Lousiana State Police officer. He obtained this position with the assistance of the United States Veterans Assistance Program.
"When I got out of the service, they asked me what region of the country I wanted to live in and I said the southeast region -- from Lousiana back to Florida. And I got out and went to live in Mississippi and the State of Louisiana called me first to go take (an employment test) and I maxed out on it, so they were like, 'Oh, O.K. You don't even need the points that you would get for bein' a veteran, so I got hired for the job and I really didn't need no trainin' either because I had done that in the service."
Carl Weathersby continued