Denmark is a long way from the Mississippi Delta or the south side of Chicago. It’s not a likely place to find a genuine mojo hand, or even your basic John the Conqueror root.
However, if you believe that blues music communicates a human condition, not just a geographical or cultural one, then you’ll no doubt take great pleasure in the artistry of Danish bluesman Peter Nande.
Nande is touring in support of his third CD, Jelly Bean Baby: California Sessions Vol. II, recorded under the auspices of California-based producer and blues artist James Harman. The CD affirms and documents Nande’s emergence as a bona fide blues songwriter, singer and harp man, and features a diverse mix of raw blues and exotic Caribbean rhythms, flavored with jazzy touches.
Nande weaves clever tales around the common theme of human desire and its consequences… stories of infidelity and excess. Nande is not afraid to take his time, telling his stories with a wily grin and anchoring them in the propulsive, hypnotic rhythms and tonal vocabulary of American blues and Caribbean music, flavored with jazzy touches.
Harman’s considerable artistic influence and production savvy resonate throughout the recording. Jelly Bean Baby builds upon the foundation that Nande laid with Big Boy Boogie, which was nominated for Danish Blues Album of the Year by the Danish Music Awards in 2007, and which figured substantially in Nande’s win as Danish Blues Musician of the Year for 2007 by the Copenhagen Music Festival.
Under Harman’s invaluable mentoring, Nande has learned that the best blues songs tell unique stories, often with an ironic twist, of human desire and human failings. However; Nande is his own man. He sings his own songs, peppering his deep blues roots with reggae, ska and European influences, all distinct from Harman’s work, resulting in enticing grooves that you’ll find yourself recalling long after the music has stopped. Nande’s voice is rich and inviting; his harmonica work is lean, crisp and articulate, each note impassioned, yet purposeful.
As is true with most success stories, this one didn’t happen overnight. For the better part of two decades, Nande dedicated himself to the passionate pursuit of legitimate blues music. It began in 1988 when, at age 16, he heard the music of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Sonny Boy Williamson (I and II) on LPs at the local library. He was inspired to buy his first harmonicas and, in his words, “started to mess around” with the blues.
“I was hooked on the sound of blues harmonica and the blues genre,” Nande recalls. “I wanted to play the harp, but as I got more knowledge, the blues grew on me. Suddenly I wanted to make songs and my own music, to be a singer and songwriter. It just sort of happened. The music and the ideas for songs were suddenly in my head and had to get out.”
Nande moved to Copenhagen in his early twenties and devoted himself to studying such blues masters as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf, as well as a younger generation of performers, including Harman, Charlie Musselwhite and William Clarke.
It took five years before Nande was ready. In 1998 he founded Nande & the Big Difference, and for seven years apprenticed as a blues musician. In 2002, the band released a self-titled CD and played festivals in Europe, backing Lazy Lester, Harman and others.
“I’m a go-getter,” Nande recalls. “I contacted the guys who I liked best in the blues business like James [Harman], R.J. Mischo and Gary Primich. I booked and went on tours with them, and asked lots of questions.”
Nande’s group disbanded in 2005. Nande set his sights on recording in the U.S. with American musicians. The dream became reality in 2006 when Nande and his band mate, guitarist Ronni Busack-Boysen flew to California to cut a CD with Harman as producer. Big Boy Boogie was engineered by the remarkably talented Nathan James, and recorded in Nathan’s home studio in Oceanside, Calif.
Fast forward to 2007: While Harman with his “Bamboo Porch” trio, including Nathan James and Ben Hernandez, toured Scandinavia for three weeks, Harman also gigged at festivals and other shows with the Peter Nande Band. All the while, plans for Jelly Bean Baby: California Sessions Vol. II were underway. Nande prepped for two months with Busack-Boysen prior to the sessions, which took place over two weeks beginning Feb. 1, 2008 in the one-car garage studio of Nathan’s new residence in Oceanside.
Jelly Bean Baby captures Nande’s continuing maturity as a songwriter. With Harman’s mentoring, Nande has learned that the best blues songs tell stories, often with an ironic twist, of the consequences of human desire.
Give a listen to “Beware Brother,” a tale of marital caution set to an irresistible groove; check out the sly reggae-styled double entendre “Slo’ Poke,” or “Ridin’ the Gravy Train,” with its lyric about livin’ the high life, set to a primal Mississippi blues rhythm. Listen to “Walk the Talk”: The song’s lyrics condemn an unfaithful woman, but the driving shuffle beat tells a different story, one of a woman shakin’ what her mama gave her; somehow, you know she’s going to get away with it, at least for a while. These songs work on more than one level, clearly, and bear evidence of Nande’s artistry.
Having completed Jelly Bean Baby, Nande returned to Denmark knowing that his blue journey is ongoing: Three years earlier, he had a dream of working with American blues musicians. With his second set of California sessions behind him, his progress is there for all to hear. And he keeps moving, with plans to cut a duo album with guitar/vocal partner Tim Lothar, to be produced in Copenhagen by Harman. He also plans work with U.K. musician Big Joe Louis and, in 2010, to record California Sessions, Vol. III.
Working with Harman, Nathan James and the other members of his recording line-up has only encouraged Nande to strive to improve even more. “It all makes me happy,” he says. “I’m a bluesman to the bone and I feel those 12 bars and a good song. It keeps me going in life!”
Jelly Bean Baby, was nominated for Danish Blues Album of the Year by the Danish Music Awards in 2009