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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Exclusive Interview: Godfrey Townsend, Accomplished Musician and Singer

By Aaron S. Robertson

New York-based guitarist shares with Milwaukee-area journalist his advice to aspiring musicians, what it’s like to have “…Clapton down better than Clapton!”, projects in the works, what fans can expect in 2012, and thoughts on guitar prodigy Derek Trucks, among other topics.

My first time seeing Godfrey Townsend - in fact, my first time ever hearing of the man, tragically - happened just this past August (2011), when I went to see the Happy Together Tour concert at the Wisconsin State Fair. There he was, on stage, backing up 60s greats The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, The Association, Mark Lindsay, and The Turtles on a light blue and white Fender Stratocaster. I learned in my interview with Townsend last month that the rest of the backing band on that tour is his own band. “It’s not your standard back-up band. Everyone has their own forte,” Townsend told me during our roughly 70-minute conversation by phone from his home in New York on January 6. “Everyone in the band can sing, and 60s music had a lot of background vocals.” As for his own singing abilities, Townsend said he spent three years with a 50s-style doo-wop group, and it was during his stay with that group that he really learned harmonizing.

In addition to his work with the Happy Together Tour, Townsend is involved with the Hippiefest tour, as well, both of which will be returning in 2012. He’s also blogging for Guitar World; working on putting together a tour called Sons of Cream, which will feature the sons of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker (Malcolm and Kofi, respectively); is a regular staple at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York City; and is the star attraction each year for a birthday tribute show in honor of legendary blues-rocker Eric Clapton, also held at the B.B. King Blues Club.

Godfrey Townsend at B.B. King Blues Club, NYC
Townsend is particularly proud of the annual Clapton tribute show, and he should be. As the story goes, Lee Dickson, Clapton’s guitar tech, turned to John Entwistle (bassist for The Who) one night after hearing Townsend performing some Cream tunes, and exclaimed, “This guy’s got Clapton down better than Clapton!” As Townsend explains, “We’ve been doing that show since 2001, and there have been many years where it sold out. It’s the longest-running, most successful show at B.B. King’s Club.” Asked what kind of Clapton material tends to get play time, with his catalog as expansive and diverse as it is, Townsend said the show, “…tends to gravitate more towards the Derek and the Dominos stuff, as that material tends to be more audience-friendly.” Townsend, who cites Clapton as being his first major influence when he was learning lead guitar, said he has never jammed with him. In a chance encounter, the two of them met very briefly one time as Clapton was leaving a show, Townsend said.

Godfrey Townsend and his band performing Layla, by Derek and the Dominos.

Asked if there’s anyone he’s keeping his eye on as far as up-and-coming talent, Townsend mentioned Derek Trucks. Now 32 years old, Trucks mastered the guitar at an early age and is particularly known for his soulful slide guitar work. He’s been a member of The Allman Brothers Band since 1999, of which his uncle, drummer Butch Trucks, is a founding member. With wife Susan Tedeschi, another blues-rock performer of note, Derek co-founded the Tedeschi Trucks band in 2010. “I wouldn’t necessarily call him up-and-coming anymore, I think he’s already established himself. But he’s still young enough where there remains a lot more to be seen from him,” Townsend said. “He’s just awesome. He’s a real-deal player.”

The Allman Brothers Band performing a smoking version of Elmore James' blues classic, The Sky is Crying, in 2009. Derek Trucks is on slide guitar.

For those aspiring to make it as musicians, Townsend said it all comes down to focus. “It takes a good 10 years to really establish yourself. And by the time you’re in your 30s-40s, there’s not much time left if you’re still aspiring. So stay focused and serious, and be true to yourself.”

Over the years, Godfrey Townsend has jammed with a who’s who list of rock’s royalty. That said, I was curious if there was anyone missing from that list that he would really love to work with someday. “Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin,” he said without hesitation. “I know some people that have worked with Pink Floyd. I grew up with Pink Floyd. There will be nothing like ‘[The] Dark Side of the Moon’ again,” he declared, referring to their 1973 album which became a smash hit. As for Led Zeppelin, Townsend said he had the opportunity to meet Jimmy Page at John Entwistle’s memorial service in England, and that his (Townsend’s) drummer has a high enough pitch to be able to sing like Robert Plant. Townsend did a lot of work with Entwistle, who was the bass player for The Who, before he passed away in 2002.

An interview with Godfrey Townsend in 2011.

As if it’s not apparent by now that Townsend is a big fan of British Invasion-era rockers and blues greats, he was also involved in the highly successful A Walk Down Abbey Road tribute tour to the Beatles in 2001-02 and, in addition to his work with John Entwistle, has also done a considerable amount of jamming with Jack Bruce, the bass player for Cream.

So what can fans expect for 2012? Here’s a brief breakdown:

  • May: Kick off the Sons of Cream tour at the end of the month with a few dates on the East Coast
  • Summer: Happy Together Tour, Hippiefest
  • Fall: Sons of Cream tour really gets going in full force

And for Milwaukee-area fans, the Happy Together Tour will be returning to the Wisconsin State Fair again this year! The 2012 lineup for that tour includes The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, and The Turtles.

For further information, visit:

Godfrey Townsend videos on YouTube

Godfrey Townsend's blog on Guitar World

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