Sunday, July 3, 2011

Interview: Rene Trossman

There are two sorts of blues fans in Prague: those who go and see Rene Trossman and those who should. His is the sound of authentic Chicago blues, coming from an authentic Chicago heart. It was there that Rene played the clubs for a decade before moving to Europe and settling in Prague. He is known not only for his slick guitar sound and raw voice but also for his frankness and honesty: Rene tells it how he sees it, and this is how he sees it...

PJ: What was the Prague scene like when you arrived?

RT: Much more “transient”, and I refer to both the expat populations as well as the venues. In the nineties it was a lot easier in many ways, bureaucracy aside, to try almost anything, and people did. This applies to music as well. I remember “creating” venues in existing places that previously never had music. Walk in, hey do you want live music? Yeah, maybe!

PJ: What changes have you seen, for better and for worse?

RT: A huge increase in the number of quality musicians would be the main “for better”. Also, the jazz scene itself has become a lot more “sophisticated” and the blues scene, well, it “became”... Now, there are some incredible guys playing here, guys who are at an International Level and could play anywhere.

As far as the “for worse”, we could do a separate interview for that some day. In an effort to be concise here, I will limit my response to this with one specific “for worse” examples, that being musicians' wages.

Somehow, in spite of the fact that virtually everything costs a lot more today in Praha than in the nineties, musicians' wages are stuck in some sort of time warp. Granted, there are the exceptions that prove the rule and I don’t want this to be an overall indictment of all venues in the country, but, in general, the wages for musicians have not kept pace with all of the other increases. I receive offers that echo the nineties, and in many cases I can distinctly remember actually being better compensated back then! More recently I’ve played private parties where the shrimp table at the buffet costs more than what they were paying the band.

The result of this has been that a lot of the best musicians are sitting at home, because they don’t want to be taken advantage of and exploited, while owners make a profit from their talent. Even worse is the collateral damage, the programmes are now filled with those musicians who ARE willing to play for such insultingly pitiful terms.

The real losers? The paying public. What I do “get” is this: Typical venue here: 150-200Kč tickets, 40-80Kč beers, t-shirts for 200Kč, and for the band? It’s back to the nineties! Or some crappy offer a “door-deal” for a percentage of tickets sold, which if any type of promotion were to be done might be “alright”.

PJ: Who are the people you’ve enjoyed playing with most, both locals and international musicians?

RT: Locally, there are a few guys that I have played with, in various incarnations, for a long time. The Hammond Organ player, Jan Kořínek, drummer Martin Kopřiva, bassist Taras Voloshchuk (UKR), drummer Martin Šulc, and guitarist Jirka Hokeš are the guys here that I’ve known the longest and have worked with the most over the years. I continue to have musical connections to all of them in one form or another today.

Internationally, the blues man Mr. Eb Davis from Memphis, now living in Berlin. Eb and I have done a lot of things together over the years, including recording a CD with Jan Kořínek and Martin Kopřiva. A blues singer from Chicago, Mr. Lorenzo Thompson has also done a lot here, again including a CD with the same cats mentioned above.

More recently I had the privilege of working here with Miss Deitra Farr, an incredible blues singer from Chicago, and also recently we had the timeless wonder here, a blues guitarist and vocalist, Mr. Chick Willis from Atlanta, who did a tour here with us a couple of years ago at age 74. I learned a lot from all of these great people and had a lot of fun too.

PJ: When you are performing what gives you the most satisfaction?

Tricky topic here Tony! Naturally I want go out there each and every time and be better than the last time, and simply do the best I can, whether it is for 5 people or for 500 people. I try to do my thing in an honest way, and “do it like I mean it” every time. This being the goal, it is not always possible to achieve it every single time out.

Having said that, most of the time I am my own worst critic and have received compliments on nights when I did not think that it was warranted, and conversely there have been nights where I thought we really tore it up and not a word. The thing between the band and its public, it’s like the classic “chicken or the egg” argument of which came first. A band can get a lot of energy from their audiences, however it also necessary for a band to give energy to the audience, in order to receive any energy back from them.

Now I can actually answer your question and you may perhaps better understand this answer now that I have provided the “back-drop” to it. I’d say that when I am performing the most satisfying thing that happens is when someone tells me, “I don’t know anything about blues or have any blues CDs, but I loved the concert tonight.” The other is when someone says, “Hey, I also play blues in a band, back at home, and I really enjoyed your gig.” Everyone else seems to fall into some “middle” category, so to speak.

PJ: Where do you find the inspiration for your own songs?

From my own life and experiences mostly. I sometimes joke about a certain song I do as being from “The angry period” and another about being written “After she dumps you for the second time”. Of course as with a lot of writing, there is a certain amount of “poetic license” granted. So, if you ever hear me singing about killing someone or some other unreal scenario, be sure, I am using that license!

PJ: What advice would you give arriving musicians who want to break into the Czech scene?

RT: Be realistic. Disappointments will be the result of your own expectations, and how realistically these two things line up. Visit the scene, evaluate it and your own expectations in order to decide if they should in fact choose Prague. Tony, two things here, NOBODY gets into the jazz/blues music business, ANYWHERE, for the purposes of making any actual money, and secondly, I would not list Prague as a place where someone is going to become “famous” or renown in the fields of jazz or blues. There it is, the plain and simple truth.

I would like to say here that I do NOT live in Prague, nor did I choose to live here, because of the “music scene” here. Yes, there are opportunities to play, it is one of the collateral advantages of living in high-tourist city such as Praha. The key word being “opportunities” As to the quality of these opportunities and what rewards they offer, again, this is the expectations part.

The fact is, doing what I do, I can do it almost anywhere in the world that I choose to do it. I happen to enjoy living in Praha. After all, we all live in a place more than we play (work) in it. I can travel all around Europe to play, from Praha. I came here a lot of years ago and certainly did not ever plan on or even think I would stay as long as I have. Obviously if it did not suit me I would no longer still be here.

PJ: What are your current plans and ambitions?

RT: Currently, I am working on completing a new CD of all original compositions. Further on, I want to focus on booking festival appearances abroad. This is such a great way to reach a lot of people in one moment, and affords a lot of great new opportunities to return somewhere in the future as a result.

My ambitions are to quit smoking and attain Nirvana. That is all Tony, thank you.

And many thanks to Rene for his time and this thoughts. You can visit Rene at his website - - and see him in action at the end of July:

JULY 26 - Jazz Dock
JULY 27 - U Malého Glena
JULY 28 - Blues Sklep
JULY 30 - U Malého Glena

And finally here is the official video for one of Rene's songs, "My Endless Blue Mood", featung his band and filmed at U Malého Glena.

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