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True Blue

Lance's cracker-jack musical journey

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For a musician, traveling around and living in different regions of a country promotes the natural opportunity to absorb local cultures and the luxury of experimenting with many diverse styles. This serves as a schooling and education during the impressional years while honing your skills and exploring your musical interests. Although jam sessions allow the opportunity to step into a spotlight and display your skills, the record collection more often than not assumes the role of a professor and mentor. Cyril Lance is a classic example of one who was determined to make a living in this impossible industry by spending countless hours of his youth in his room being schooled by a turntable.

His debut release, Stranger In My House, started out as a Muddy Waters tribute album for which Lance assembled a cast of friends and long-time musical acquaintances to assist in the recording. The end result is a refreshing collection of modern blues. Recently CL talked with Lance about the album and upcoming tour:

The album has received critical praise and has created quite a buzz within several major industry heavyweight publications (Billboard, Blues Revue) without the backing of a major label -- that must feel good as an independent artist?

Cyril Lance:Yes ... but the independent road is a tough way to go. If I could find a label that shared in my musical philosophy, I certainly would appreciate their support (laughs). It's been really gratifying to get all this affirmation for Stranger. I was dissatisfied after years of recording for other people, and I set out to make an album that was true to my vision as an artist and I believe that this is where the listener will always win with an independent release. I was committed to making each song on this album a deep personal statement and I had the freedom to follow my gut -- things like recording live to capture that energy, leaving solos open and spontaneous regardless of the length of the song. That's what I think makes this album so special.

Prior to the release of your debut, many folks may have seen you perform with Gastonia native Mel Melton and his band, The Wicked Mojo's. How did you become his guitar player?

After moving to the Chapel Hill area from Boston, MA in the mid 90s, I accepted a job playing a New Orleans Jazz Brunch (complete with banjo!) at a local restaurant managed by Mel -- we hit it if off and became friends. I had just begun playing slide at the time and he invited me to attend a weekly blues jam. After he heard me play, Mel offered me the position in his band and I ended up playing with him for over three years. It was a great time and it really honed my slide skills. Chris Carrol [bass] and Kelly Pace [drums] joined up with Mel shortly after I joined, and we instantly fell into this really great groove that has continued to this day. Kelly and Chris are awesome and have played with a pretty impressive list of bluesmen -- Bob Margolin, Pine Top Perkins, Big Eyes Willie Smith, and Skeeter Brandon...After I left Mel and decided that I was going to do my own album, I knew that Chris and Kelly would be the rhythm section.

Johnny Neel [Allman Brothers Band, Willie Nelson] appears on the album. How did that come about?

Johnny and I had met when we were recording Mel's album Mojo Dream at Johnny's studio in Nashville. Johnny always gets worked up about the music and ended up playing on the project, which was a real treat. During one of our sound checks, he and I were messing around a bit, and at that point I knew that we were connected musically. I recorded the album with my band in Durham and my voice wasn't quite right for the material. I had tried out a few local singers but couldn't find anyone that could match the intensity of the tracks we had laid down so I called Johnny up and asked if he would like to sing on the project. When I went to Nashville to record Johnny's vocals, I was unaware of just how amazing he would be and so wasn't expecting it to happen like it did -- it was a mind-blowing experience for me. He was so spontaneous, free and intuitive. Johnny sang the songs exactly like I heard them in my head and then took it to another level. It was an intense time, and we ended up recording the version of "Remembering Jon" at his studio, which is a career highlight for me -- that song is written for my brother who died, and this recording just gives me chills. Johnny's friend Allen Woody (Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule) had just died that week, so I think it all just came out at three in the morning...

Matt Jenson plays piano and B3 on the album. How did he fit in as well?

Matt and I became musical soulmates during my time up in Boston. We started out playing in a reggae band together, both being [Bob] Marley fanatics. I think Matt is one of the finest B3/piano players out on the scene right now. He and I just feel the music the same way and it's a great honor to have him on the album and to perform with him. Another thing about Matt is that we both are on a similar trip spiritually with the whole music thing. I knew that Matt would hook up with Kelly and Chris, so the band for this album was kind of pre-ordained in a way.

You've been touring regionally with Kelly, Chris and local B3 player Dave McCracken, but you have a "special" mini-tour scheduled which will also include Johnny and Matt joining the group, right?

Yeah...this'll be one hell of a show. I'm a huge piano and B3 fanatic -- this is a guitarist's dream come true. Johnny and Matt play really well together -- both are such great musicians that they give each other room. Johnny's got such a deep connection to the soul of the music that ego doesn't seem to be an issue. Matt's the same way. Both are the types of musician that I gravitate towards. On the first set I have Matt play organ while Johnny is on piano. On the second set, Matt switches over to play piano. So both of them get to shine on each instrument and feed off of each other. Put a rhythm section as good as Kelly and Chris behind them and just about anything I play sounds great. It gets pretty intense -- I brought this band together last May and the shows were magical. This will only be the second time we've all performed together.

What's up next? Any new material already waiting in the wings?

I have another album of music worked up in the vein of Stranger and I'd also like to do a full-length album of lap-steel doing tunes that will stretch the boundaries of that instrument. But at this point I'll need some help financially to pull that off, so I'm talking with some labels and keeping my fingers crossed. Since the album is getting such a great response in Europe, most notably Italy, I'm working with a promoter in Italy and hopefully will be going over there sometime this winter. Europeans are really receptive to this music, so I'm also working on licensing the album over there. Mostly, I just want to keep on playing and developing along my musical journey. I'm really excited about these shows coming up and about what opportunities the coming year will bring.

Cyril Lance will perform at the Visulite Theatre Thursday, December 12 at the Visulite Theatre. Tickets cost $8. Call the club at 704-358-9200 for more details. u


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