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April 2018 - Luke Winslow-King

Winslow-King Bridges Gap Between 'Little Cadillac' and 'The Big Easy'

Story by LCC Radio Reporter Sarah Spohn

Luke Winslow-KingLuke Winslow-King’s pre-war blues and traditional jazz music is oozing with New Orleans flavor, but the singer-songwriter has Northern roots. He grew up in the small Northern Michigan town of Cadillac, and attended the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts. It was here, within the sacred halls of this educational institute, Winslow-King experienced world-class academic excellence and became more interested in music as a career.

“I was interested in playing music and gigs before I went to Interlochen – where I was playing local functions and bar gigs, I was interested in it then,” Luke-Winslow King said. “But only when I went to Interlochen, did I aspire towards having a career in music. I think being surrounded by so many talented individuals and artists from around the world, really contributed to that aspiration and the confidence it gave me that I could actually achieve such a goal.”

The adolescent student was interested in guitar, rock ‘n’ roll and folk music growing up in Cadillac. He then turned to jazz, so he could spend more time in school studying music and playing guitar.

“Jazz was a kind of an avenue to get more serious about music during school,” Luke Winslow-King said. “That initially got me interested in playing jazz, and then as I learned more and more about it, it inspired me musically and artistically.”

He landed his first Saturday night standing gig playing classic rock covers at McGuire’s Resort in Cadillac, at just 14 years old. After being raised on tunes like The Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Bruce Springsteen, Winslow-King started his own blues band – a power trio with electric bass and drums. That group played the Wheatland Music Festival in 1999 when the slide guitar player was just a teenager.

After graduating high school, Winslow-King moved to New Orleans when he was 19 years old. Fast-forward 15 years, and the Michigander still remained a regularly performing musician performing nightly in the easy-going Southern city.

“I stayed around long enough to fall in love with the place,” he said. “I auditioned for the classical music program at the University of New Orleans. I stayed there and studied classical music, until I moved to New York right before Hurricane Katrina, and I spent about two years in New York before moving back to New Orleans.”

While the delta-folk and rock ‘n’ roll musician had a few stints away from Louisiana, the vibrant, tropical, musical atmosphere kept drawing him back.

“It’s hard to describe in just words … but it’s a beautiful environment. It’s more European than any other city in America that I’ve lived and worked in,” he said of New Orleans. “It’s just amazing because it has a really rich cultural heritage: not just for music, but also for art and cuisine and lifestyle and way of living. People there have a really unique and soulful way of living and creating music. There’s music on every Luke Winslow-Kingstreet corner. There’s 200-300 clubs that have music seven days a week, 365 days a year, and there’s a lot of incredibly talented artists that that city holds.”

While in the city, Luke Winslow-King met the directors of NCIS New Orleans, and wrote the music for the credits of the CBS pilot episode. His performance also appeared on the outro of an episode that aired in early April.

Moments where the singer-songwriter escaped the Southern heat, he traveled on tour with his band all around the world. Last summer, Winslow-King and his crew (Roberto Luti, Matt Rhody, Benji Bohannon, Ben Polcer, Tyler Thompson, and Brennan Andes) took a week off. They didn’t stop playing music though – in fact, they recorded new material in a town called Livorno, on the coast of Tuscany.

“We had been on the daily grind of performing as a quartet every night for those weeks, and when I record, I like to have music that’s fresh – but yet well-rehearsed enough to record,” Winslow-King said. “So you’re not sick of the material yet, but you don’t quite know it perfectly either – so you’re kind of like riding that line. We found ourselves in that moment with a few days off.

He spoke about the ‘fortress village’ studio situated on top of a mountain, where the band recorded parts of Blue Mesa. According to Winslow-King, the space was very unique.

“The engineer of the studio, his name is Mirco. He’s a completely blind studio engineer and studio owner,” he said. “His hearing is so well-tuned that he can ride a bicycle around the village by creating sounds with his mouth and bouncing them off the walls. He’s so aware of his environment by only using his sense of hearing.”

The well-tuned studio organized by individual placement of each microphone, amplifier and drum – by Mirco. The band recorded 10 songs live in three days, and recorded another track from the upcoming album, back in the states. There’s even a Lansing tie-in on his fourth album to be released with Bloodshot Records (Ryan Adams, Neko Case, Justin Townes Earle) on May 11. Part of the overdubs for the new material were done at Glen Brown Productions in East Lansing.

“There’s actually a nice Capital City stamp on this record,” Winslow-King said, “there’s a lot of Lansing influence, which is cool.”

There’s even more Lansing influence on this Southern-sounding record, given some of the members who perform on the tracks. Blue Mesa features Lansing resident keyboard and organist Mike Lynch (Bob Seger, Larry McCray, Kid Rock, Josh Davis) as well as blue guitarist Roberto Luti, Chris Davis (King James and the Special Men) and more.

After over two decades in the South, Winslow-King recently moved returned to the Great Lakes state to spend more time with loved ones.

“It was just a time in my life where I wanted nature, and I wanted family. I can get my city life and cultural experiences when I’m on the road,” he said. “It was just a season in my life where I wanted to settle down a bit and come back to my roots in Michigan.”

Winslow said that reserving some of yourself for your friends and family is necessary to create art in a health way. That’s certainly not to stay the musician won’t mingle with his fans, though.

“I remember when I was 16, I got to go on B.B. King’s bus, and shake his hand, and talk to him about music,” Winslow-King said. “It was a great moment for me that I haven’t forgotten.”

“Anytime I think ‘oh I’m tired, or my voice is tired, I don’t have time to go shake hands and sign Luke-Winslow Kingautographs,’ I think about B.B. King being 70 years old -- and allowing people to come on his bus after playing for thousands of people at the Kalamazoo State Theatre. If he can do it then, then I can most certainly do it now.”

In fact, those meaningful interactions and connections with the people who enjoy his music is what empowers the musician with gratitude. Learning about how his music helps fans face-to-face is rewarding and flattering, something Winslow-King said is worth 1,000 likes on Facebook.

“That’s really a powerful feeling for me -- to feel like people can get inside the songs and find something that’s personal, relatable and useful in their own human experience. That’s probably the most rewarding aspect of the fan-artist relationship, for me.”

This spring, the band is playing a hometown show at the Gopherwood Concerts in Cadillac, a series Winslow-King attended while growing up. Other Spring/Summer Michigan stops include, Buttermilk Jamboree in Grand Rapids, Otus Supply Company in Ferndale, Blissfest in July, and Hoxeyville Music Festival in August. There’s also massive East/West Coast tours in the summer, and the European tour in early fall. 

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