Guitarist Matt Schofield got an early start on the blues.
He discovered the blues before he became of legal age, when his peers probably were focused on top 40 and the latest genre trend of the month. And by age 18, the U.K. born musician had entered the world of the professionals, taking gigs as a sideman. Nowadays, he is touted as one of the best axeman of the blues in the world.
Calling from East Toronto, Canada, during a visit with some friends, Schofield said he’s not sure why he was drawn to the blues at a young age. It simply was what he heard his dad playing on the stereo. “I just liked it. It sounded good.”
Schofield was due to play the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield on Thursday, March 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Schofield said he started playing the blues on the guitar in jam sessions with the family. As a player, he liked how the music was “so expressive, so personal, and so intimate.”
In the early days of playing, Schofield said he turned to the three “Kings” –Albert, B.B., and Freddie– for instrumental inspiration. Then he found his way to the sounds of modern bluesmen such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton. “The usual suspects,” he quipped.
Initially, Schofield said, he knew the blues, but he didn’t know anything about jazz or the guitar used as an instrument in a jazz setting. But when he heard Robben Ford, Schofield heard how he could combine jazz and the blues. That discovery then sent him on a journey through the canon of jazz trumpeter great Miles Davis.
In time, Schofield’s sound and his approach to the blues began to take on a personality of its own.
“I try not to limit myself,” said Schofield of his current musical approach. And now his sound incorporates different branches of the blues and jazz such as funk and soul.
Although he is leading his own band these days, Schofield said initially when he set forth as a professional bluesman, “I was just happy to play the guitar…” He was more than satisfied as a sideman, letting the attention of the audience be focused on someone else. “I just wanted to be playing.”
In time, though, a solo career found him even if he wasn’t looking for it. “I got a weekly residence in London in 2002,” said Schofield. “The response was good and that started building gradually to a solo career.”
“It was nothing by design,” said Schofield of the leap from sideman to a solo artist, who now earns comparisons to English blues greats such as Eric Clapton and Peter Green.
However, Schofield said, being a solo artist does carry a good deal of responsibility that he didn’t have as a sideman. You have to be serious about the music direction of the band, he said. And when you write your own material, Schofield said, you have to be prepared to guide the rest of the band to the sound you hear in your head.
For his new album, “Far As I Can See,” Schofield said his sound has evolved from where he was headed on previous albums. The idea for “Far As I Can See” was to keep his guitar as the common thread among the songs. From there, he said, “We were open to let things go where they wanted to go.”
“Far As I Can See” also was about working with a cast of musicians that was on Schofield’s “to do” list when he finally had the chance.
Thus far, he said, the response from fans to “Far As I Can See” has been “positive.” Schofield said, “The honesty and passion comes across.”
Although, Schofield comes from the U.K., he likes coming to the States to tour. “The people in America are just familiar with the blues deeply,” said Schofield. “People know how to respond. They feel it.”
In the U.K., Schofield said, audience look at his shows as more of a performance. They sit back, watch, and nod.
Schofield also enjoys visiting the States to pay pilgrimage to many of the places that helped give birth to the blues.
“It’s just an amazing, emotional experience for me,” said Schofield of visiting these venerated locations. “I’m just not just a casual music fan. It’s an entire life for me.”
As for what fans can expect from Matt Schofield live, he said, “We just give it everything. It’s powerful. It’s all about making that connectiing to the audience… There’s no phoning it in.”
Matt Schofield was scheduled to perform at the Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge Rd., Ridgefield on Thursday, March 13 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $28 and $45. For more information, go to RidgefieldPlayhouse.org or MattSchofield.com