A League All His Own - Matt Besey

Best Blues Songwriter - Best Blues Vocalist - Critic's Choice: Best Blues Band

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature, Review Music Awards,   From Issue 790   By: Robert E Martin

08th May, 2014     0

Matt Besey has proved to be a dominating and welcomed expressive force on the Mid-Michigan music scene, as well as the Review Music Awards, ever since he first surfaced upon the scene back in the early ‘90s.  Apart from winning numerous awards as a musician, vocalist, and songwriter in genres ranging from Blues to Rock to Country, Besey secured honors for Best Blues Band in 1999-2000, 2002, 2004-2005, and 2009-2010.  Plus it was at a memorable performance when he joined famed Rock ‘n Roll legend Dick Wagner on-stage for a collaborative guitar-showdown during our 8th Awards Ceremony back in 2004 that led to the two joining forces, with Wagner producing Besey’s debut CD release of original material.

Without doubt, Matt Besey is a world-class guitarist possessing an expressive fluidity coupled with a distinctive style and physical ability that is both as unique and on a similar level with other better known guitar legends as Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, or Jimi Hendrix (as witnessed when Besey produced a one-time only ‘Tribute to Hendrix’ at Pit & Balcony Theatre several years ago).

Yet similarities to the side, everything about Matt Besey and his music is undoubtedly original and singular:  from the hybrid texture between Blues & Rock with his original compositions, to the way he translates familiar Blues standards and makes them all his own – perhaps the biggest problem Besey faced as a musician 20-years ago is one shared with many young protégé’s when they first break out of the starting gate:  he was simply too good.

Fueled with ambition and brimming with a talent it takes normal adults years of practice to accumulate, when Besey first broke out of Frankenmuth onto the regional scene 20 years ago he became the ‘Talk of the Town’, finding an early champion & mentor in the form of Larry McCray.
Constant gigging and the alliance that spawned his debut CD resulted in Matt opening gigs for Grand Funk Railroad at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and for Creedence Clearwater Revisited at Pine Knob, only to lose momentum from a barrage of management difficulties, personnel shake-ups, and too much constant live exposure locally that caused many to start taking him for granted.

But all of that is now past tense, as Besey persevered and went on to release a second dynamite CD, Prisoner, six years ago and then departed from the scene to go on a 3-year tour of the world with the Australian Blues harmonica and didgeridoo player Harper.  Besey returned to the Mid-Michigan area last year with a new group consisting of drummer Mark Dault and bassist Todd Cox; and he also performs regularly with the TNT Blues Band, which consists of drummer Tom Dolson and bassist Matt Nyquist, occasionally joined on keyboards by Mike Brush.

When we sat down do discuss his wins at this year’s 2014 Review Music Awards, along with the peaks & valleys of his storied career, my first question centered upon how Matt’s musical goals and vision of what he hopes to accomplish have changed and evolved since he first burst onto the scene 20-some years ago.

“First and foremost I’m more comfortable on stage than when I first started performing and I don’t rally get the jitters anymore,” he confesses. “I’m writing and performing music that transcends both the Rock & Blues genres and I’ve learned to be what I want, not what somebody else thinks I should be or wants me to sound like. I think now I’m closer to being able to express what I want to express. In the past I would feel like the sound in my head was difficult to make come out of that amp – and I’ll probably always feel that way – but you get to know yourself better the longer you’re alive and that comes through when you’re expressing yourself through music.  Aside from the obvious physical aspects of playing, a lot of the creative power from music comes from the imaginative aspect, which isn’t talked about a lot.”

What about the 3-year break that he took touring with Harper – did that experience help him grow and develop as a musician? “Yeah, I was all over the world and got off that tour just before last summer,” he explains. “We toured Europe, Belgium, Italy, spent a lot of time in Florida and went out West and up to Canada and then back down south.  The style of music Harper played was a fusion of world styles and that entire experience was very helpful.  The Blues has a very strong following in Florida, but sometimes I think that with the nature of Harper’s original show and using the didgeridoo and all that, some of the more backwards places we played didn’t really get it.”

As for current projects, Matt says that since his return home he’s been busy writing new material. “We’re getting ourselves together as a band and I also enjoy performing with TNT,” states Matt. “I do more of a Rock ‘n Roll Blues hybrid with my own band, whereas TNT concentrates on more traditional Blues, so it’s a fun trade-off between styles and keeps me on my toes polishing my range.”

“As a Blues player, I’m more on the Rock side of things than a lot of Blues bands prefer,” continues Matt. “In the past I would often hear, ‘Oh, you’re playing too much Blues; or ‘Hey, you’re more of a Rock guitarist; but as I’ve gotten older I don’t even think about that anymore. 10 years ago I would ask myself when I was writing a song – is this a Blues or a rock tune? Now I simply don’t care. If it’s something that I’m creating that appeals to me then I go with it.”

When asked what he feels his biggest challenge is at this stage of the came, Matt points to the importance of endurance. “The biggest challenge is just to keep it all up and running,” he reflects. “You’ve got to be careful with your brand and not get over-exposed, yet it’s also a challenge just to keep working nowadays. The economy has affected everybody from large touring acts with the price of gas; and clubs are also shrinking, so it’s hard to go out on the road in the same way that you used to.”

For the immediate present, however, the Great Lakes Bay area is fortunate to have this incredible talent performing once again in the area on a regular basis.  You can catch The Matt Besey Band on Friday, May 9th at White’s Bar; Friday & Saturday, May 13-14 at The Baywood; and the last Thursday of every month he will be performing at The Rusty Saw in Bay City. 

“We’ve also got a great gig in July happening that I just booked that I can’t say anything about right now,” concludes Matt. “It’s going to be announced on May 12th, so if people are interested in keeping up with our gigs, just check us out on our facebook page.”


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