Interview with Bo Heart

How did you get to music?

I grew up in a musical family. My dad was minister in an evangelical church. It had a lot of singing. We also made music together at home. We were three siblings and we formed a group when I was about 9 years old. First public performance was at the wedding of my aunt. At age 11 I started on the piano. But I didn't like the lessons, nor the music I was supposed to play. So I soon stopped taking lessons. I learned how to play the piano and singing by imitation. My brother taught me the 12 bar blues, an acquaintance a few blues riffs, and somebody else something new and so on. So you learn autodidactically by research, trial and error, critique and imitation. I just never got the reading music thing. I mostly play by ear.

What made you decide to beome a professional musician?

The desire to perform music in front of people came early. I remember at age 15 playing alone in front of the empty chairs of the church hall. For hours I would play the same Blues- and Boogie stuff, all the while imagining the chairs being occupied. When we arrived in Canada - I had just turned 16 - I received a lot of support from my music teacher at Bowness High School. He bought me an electric piano and got first gigs for me and my sister. From then, it just kept going. First there were small jobs for little money. One day I started getting engaged as piano player by established bands. By age 17, I made all the money I needed to support myself via music. And that is still the case today. For over 30 years now.

Is it a good profession?

In my case it is varied and exciting. I also get inspiration from the back and forth with various artists and musical styles. To work with big time artists like Curt Cress, Klaus Lage, Xavier Naidoo or Albert Mangelsdorff is just tops. You get to experience the way they work, how they draw in their audience and the many different ways to make music come alive. But there's also a dark side to the music business, with questionable characters chasing the quick buck. At times you have to keep your guard up. Early on in my career, I experienced such a case where someone took me for quite a bit of money. Other than that, I've always dealt with very decent people, who's word you could trust.

Do you remember your worst gig?

No! (laughs) But I remember the second worst: It was my first professional job after high school. My brother, my sister, a drummer and I had a 3 week engagement in Vernon, British Columbia. Our drummer had facilitated this job. He usually played in a hotel lounge band. So he was used to very soft sounds and thus considered our light pop music as rock. So here we show up at this rock bar in Vernon, the place packed with tough guys and fittingly tough chicks. I had never seen so many tattoos in once place before. You've got to imagine the scene: Here I show up with my 17 year old baby-face and the raunchiest tune I could do was Crocodile Rock by Elton John. People wanted to hear heavy metal, not pussy-music. For two days in a row, we cleared out the room within 2 sets. So when I showed up at the entrance on the third day, the bouncer stopped me: "You're not allowed in here." I told im that I was with the band to which he dryly replied: "I know!" Grinning smugly, he let me in... to take down our gear!

Do you practice lots?

If you practice a lot, you'll get good at practicing. I just love to play and lots. But cramming isn't my thing. Of course, sometimes you've got to work on your technique or work on new material. Before my first tour with Vicky, I was quite worried about not cutting it. That time I did sit down to practice very intensely. I also worked up quite a sweat with Albert Mangelsdorff. In both cases, they were musical genres, which at the time I had little experience with. Most of the time I learn stuff by just playing it many times over.

If you had to categorize your music, what would you call it?

The overreaching term for what I do, and also what I like to listen to, is "pop". It's the common term for a wide variety of styles. Soul, Country, Blues, Beat, Rap, etc. I choose things that connect with me, be it the music, the lyrics or the arrangements. I'm a pop musician, because in pop pretty much anything goes. The Beatles demonstrated that. You're allowed to experiment, sometimes it's simple, sometimes complex - I always let my taste decide.

Do you have role models?

Yes, a few. Joe Cocker influenced my singing. Of course I don't have a Cocker voice at all and listening to me wouldn't remind anyone of Cocker. But his way of phrasing and interpretation have influenced me. On the piano it's Elton John and studio musicians Richard Tee, Billy Preston and Nicky Hopkins. As song writers, people like Neil Finn, Sting or Mark Knopfler, and also Stevie Wonder or Billy Preston, whom I very much enjoy listening to.

What do you enjoy better, accompanying or leading?

Both are a lot of fun. Both are totally fascinating. Since I've accompanied a lot until now, I want to do a bit more myself and be a bit more in front. That's just how it is!

What would you hate to miss?

The unpredictable life and associated surprises. I like traveling, hotels, the different programs of different bands, always new friendships with colleagues and not to forget: jam sessions in the hotel bar. I could do without the flip-side of the items I just mentioned. The uncertainty, the lack of roots, and sometimes the loneliness. What do they say about the two sides of a coin?

You've made two albums, are working on a third. What drives you ?

Recorded music has it's own unique attraction. Making an album is always something special. That's when I take my time, fiddle and experiment and draw inspiration from my colleagues. In my own productions I get into depths only possible in a studio. Also, an album lends you a little piece of immortality.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I'm occupied making music interesting for a live audience. There are many amazing artists, for whom, for a variety of reasons, access to a larger audience is denied. One artist may not be "in" anymore, another may not be good looking enough for today's media landscape, yet another one too shy. Yet each one of them has something to communicate. I imagine drawing these artists out of their isolation and to bundle their energies. Why should a young talent have to pull off an entire concert? Why should the once-famous singer have to be solely responsible for achieving enough tickets sales to ensure economic viability for promoter and artists alike? If I can gather several artists under one roof, there's more upside than downside. The concept isn't new. Rock'n Roll was invented by Alan Fried quite similarly. These days, you see the "Söhne Mannheims", "Freundeskreis" and many others in such relationships. There you get to see entire musical programs rather than just bands or solo artists.