Compassion lies at the heart of Eric's worldwide blues acoustic obsession
Making music is all about connecting with people for acoustic blues artist Eric Bibb. He loves nothing better than travelling the world sharing stories through the songs he writes and sings, a man, his guitar and his audience in total harmony. He calls it his "divine obsession".
"It's kind of a tried and true calling being a travelling band; I feel really connected to the tradition of it and in a way that inspires me and gives me stamina," says the 62-year-old, who is currently touring the UK with his band and has a show next week at Exeter's Phoenix.
"And I think it is so energising to do something that you love; I just wrote a song on the fast train to Paris called Love What You Do."
With warm, honeyed, yet sometimes gritty tones, Eric's vocal and guitar styles cherry-pick from his blues, gospel and soul roots, as well as reflecting the music he has heard on his long adventure. He has stacked up four decades worth of recorded material, as well as thousands of live performances, and his work is both hugely respected by his peers and revered by an ever growing army of discerning fans.
Eric was born and raised in New York; his singer father, Sean, was part of the 1960s New York folk scene and his godfather was the actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson.
It seems inevitable that Eric would embrace music; and he was given his first steel-string acoustic guitar aged just seven. In his late teens he set off to explore Europe and has resided on this side of the Atlantic ever since, in Stockholm, London and Salisbury.
Now love has seen Eric settle in Finland, homeland of his manager and wife, Sari; their baby son, Oscar has just turned a year old. Sometimes they come on the road with him, and when they can't, he keeps in touch through the wonders of technology.
A constant in his life and work is an underlying spirit of compassion for his fellow human beings, whoever and wherever they may be.
"We connect ourselves with others through modern technology every day, and our compassion and understanding need to catch up," he says. "Even a cursory study of the world's religions will reveal so much common ground. It seems absurd that there is so much conflict based on religion. We need to look at this more seriously – and I think that it what technology is really for – reinforcing that connection on a real heart level."
This is a particularly strong thread in his latest record, Jericho Road, released on download today and on vinyl and CD in early November.
"There are definitely world flavours throughout the album and it was a conscious reflection," says Eric. "Jericho Road is the route that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho that is mentioned in the Bible story of the Good Samaritan; in that story a traveller of a despised race, stopped to help a stranger in need after better-off religious leaders had passed by and done nothing. And in his last speech Dr Martin Luther King encouraged people to be like the Good Samaritan," explains Eric.
"You can't save yourself without saving others. And I think more and more that is something that it has become necessary to keep in mind and heart as a global community.
"If this record has a theme, that's it in a nutshell: have a heart."
Eric says it's an ambitious project that's been a few years in the making and produced by his friend and long-time collaborator Glen Scott, who will be playing keyboards and singing backing vocals on the tour.
He's also bringing along a bass player and drummer, plus acclaimed Canadian multi instrumentalist Michael Jerome Brown, who will be playing in Eric's band as well as performing solo as the opening act.
Choosing what to play live is one of the most challenging parts of what Eric does; he says his tour setlist will span his career, rather than focus on the new LP. "I am interested in reconnecting with my audience each time I play; when you're not a major rock band storming up the charts, you have to find a way to get things across," he says. "It's not my agenda to recreate the current album, so there will be old songs and new songs. I really enjoy it. There is nothing quite like being able to meet your fanbase regularly, up close and intimately."
Eric Bibb appears at Exeter Phoenix on Wednesday, October 30.