Some artists just play music. Ted Drozdowski inhabits it, with all his heart and soul, powering his true-to-life songs with high-energy performances that often find him literally playing on his audience’s tables and in their laps.
Through a decade and five albums including 2012’s CD+DVD set BIG SHOES: Walking and Talking the Blues, a collaboration with world-renown roots music film maker Robert Mugge (Gospel According To Al Green, Deep Blues, Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus), he’s led his band Scissormen through the US and Europe, playing everything from Mississippi juke joints to major festivals including Bonnaroo and France’s Cognac Blues Passions.
For Ted, American roots music is a vital bridge between generations, cultures and the past and the future. And he uses that bridge to not only connect deeply with his fans in concerts, but in the slide guitar and music history workshops he conducts.
Often Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen are about surprises. Not only in the imagination and scope the trio brings to its recordings and performances, but even in the way Ted and the group approach creating music. Check out Ted playing the one-string diddley bow, for example, and consider where he recorded the next Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen album: in a tent in the woods down a dirt road high on a mountaintop behind Nashville’s historic Loveless Café.
Details on that album’s release — which captures the trio’s sound in full bloom — will be available soon. Meanwhile, there’s BIG SHOES: Walking and Talking the Blues. The set’s live album — recorded at the historic Key Palace Theater in Red Key, Indiana — received extensive worldwide airplay including the number three spot on the charts at Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s “B.B. King’s Bluesville.” The 90-minute feature film — a blend of concert film, road movie and musical history lesson — debuted at the Starz Denver Film Festival and has screened at the Gasparilla Film Festival in Tampa and at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, among other cultural institutions.
Both the film and the album feature original Scissormen drummer R.L. Hulsman and were made during a tour that reunited R.L. and Ted, and serves as a cap on the band’s history as a duo hell-bent on modernizing the Mississippi hill country tradition.
Ted has been on the American roots music scene for 30 years. He began writing about the music in the early 1980s, while living in Boston, Massachusetts, and received the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Journalism in 1998, among other honors. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Guitar World, Premiere Guitar, Musician and dozens of other publications. He has also consulted on film projects including 2000’s “Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues” PBS-TV series.
All the while Ted was also an active musician, mostly playing rock and improvised music, notably with the obscure-but-inventive alternative-rock era bands Vision Thing and Devil Gods. Along the way he developed a stunning and unique command of slide guitar playing and a textural approach that straddles the provinces of bluesman Muddy Waters and the late jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock, another of Ted’s mentors.
Ted toured and made a live album with beat poet and activist John Sinclair called Steady Rollin’ Man, and co-wrote songs with Ronnie Earl that the blues guitar virtuoso cut with Irma Thomas and Kim Wilson. Ted’s resume as a producer includes Peter Parcek 3’s The Mathematics of Love, which received a Blues Music Awards nomination for Best Debut Album and drew international acclaim.
“Like Muddy Waters, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash and my mentors R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae Hemphill — and all the other artists who inspire me — I believe in keeping my feet planted firmly in tradition and keeping my eyes on the future,” Ted says. “This music is vital, contemporary and brimming with power, passion and beauty.”