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Shawn Amos on playing the blues, 70s Hollywood and protest music




The reverend Shawn Amos with Take Two's Alex Cohen
The reverend Shawn Amos with Take Two's Alex Cohen

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We are living in difficult times, but if you're looking for a break from the heavy news headlines, music could be the answer.

Shawn Amos plays the blues. He's also the son of Wallace Amos — you might know him for his Famous Amos cookies.

Shawn will be performing at the Edison Thursday night. (Click here for information.) He dropped by KPCC to talk with Alex Cohen about his latest music, growing up in 1970s Hollywood, and the role of music in difficult times.

When he's not playing the blues at the Edison, Shawn likes to play music in the kitchen. His series, Kitchen Table Blues, can be found on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkhvK6EXO7I

Interview Highlights

On the role that the blues plays in this day and age

"I think the blues has been marginalized and sidelined in popular culture. When I first started getting into it, I, like a lot of people, sort of made the mistake of saying, 'Well, it's not relevant anymore, it's an old, dying music, it's the music of poor black people.' And I should have known better, part of me did know better. But what I realized is that it is so foundational and so elemental to the American experience and the human experience, and there's something about the simplicity of it that provides this direct connection from head to heart. It's the quickest way I know to get a hold of my feelings and my emotions, and to find a pathway out, and to find some kind of release. So I just feel like the problem isn't a lack of practitioners, because there's amazing people playing blues all over the place. The problem is really, it's a marketing problem in a way, and so I felt like through my experience and the way I grew up, and sort the paths I've been on, that I could perhaps put maybe a bit of sheen on it, not in terms of polished music, but presentation that harken back to what it used to be like."

Note: This song contains strong language

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnRMubrXDZU

On what it was like growing up in Hollywood in the 1970s

"70s Hollywood was very different than now. There was a real seediness to it. It was seedy, but not dangerous. At least it didn't feel dangerous to me. It was sort of this alternative Disneyland universe where you could — you know, helicopter parents didn't exist, and so, you know, you could be let out into the streets on your own, like any suburban neighborhood. But yet, the streets you were let out into were full of hookers and drug dealers and porn stars and pimps, and just this bizarre, fascinating array of characters. And they all were very nurturing in their own kind of way. They were family. It seemed normal at the time, and I look back at it, and I'm grateful for it because not only Hollywood, but being able to travel with my father at the peak of his celebrity, it put me in touch with this huge range of humanity. And so for me, I've met presidents, and I've met pimps, and I've met business leaders and I've met drug dealers and I've met everyone in between, and I feel equally comfortable around all of them."

On his song, "Brother's Keeper"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rykbi0Vxec

"I wrote that song in response to two things: One of the earlier police atrocities we had last year, and Questlove had written a series of Instagram posts wondering why there was no protest music, and why people weren't writing songs now... I don't know Questlove, I don't know if he knows that I did it, but I rose to the challenge, I wanted to write something. The idea of, 'chase hate with love, get the word from up above, be my brother's keeper,' that song means more now, a year after I wrote it, and six-plus months after the album was released, than it did back then."     

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.