One of the things we pride ourselves on here at Keepin’ it Country is to introduce country music fans to artists they might not yet have heard of. We started our site with that goal in mind, to introduce the mainstream country music fan to new artists to help expand their music libraries. This is why as part of our new features in this new year we will be launching a look at other genres with a non-country but very talented artist each month. To start off this new feature exclusive to Keepin’ it Country, I’d like to introduce you to the very talented, and down-to-earth, blues singer Slam Allen. I met Slam while on-board the Norwegian Epic for a New Years Eve cruise and was blown away by his voice. He performs almost every night on the cruise ship in the Fat Cats lounge, and as the 7-day cruise went on, his club became packed after passengers finally discovered his talent.
Slam has been entertaining audiences for over 20 years before he found his way on NCL’s most innovative, and largest, cruise ship yet. He’s part of a fantastic entertainment line-up that I believe is the best on any cruise line right now. Fans might recognize him as the lead singer from the James Cotton Band, but soon the world will know him simply as Slam Allen. With a voice reminiscent of blues great B.B. King, it was a pleasure to get to know him and see him as many nights on the ship as I did. Listening to Slam is an experience: you can hear the soul of the music that he sings, which is so rare in the music industry today.
Get to know Slam Allen before he makes it big in our exclusive interview with Slam from the NCL Epic cruise ship one week ago. We sat down in the back of the same club he plays at night-after-night to discuss his background, why he chose to perform at sea, and how he’s a free soul and will let the music take him where he wants to go. He’s an interesting artist, and one that deserves the attention from even country music fans:
Tell us a little bit about how you started to get interested in music, what drew you to it.
First off, my Dad and my Uncle, ever since I was four, had me around a lot of music. As I got older I wanted to be more like them, so I just started listening to the music and Dad got me a guitar. That’s how I started.
So do you just play guitar?
In high school I played string bass, classical music and also I tried to play the drums but I really wasn’t a great drummer. I couldn’t keep the beat when I had to.
So why did you decide to join the cast on NCL?
Just by chance. It wasn’t something that I planned to do. I was playing at a club one night in New York City, and my friend, who was a manager, came up to me that night and said “would you like to try to play a cruise ship?” I like to try anything once. He happened to have a friend who was an agent and they liked what they heard in me. The next thing you know, I’m here. The rest is history.
Share a little bit about your former band that fans might know you from.
Back when I was 13 years old I played in my Dad’s band, and we played all these little clubs in the South. By 1984, I started the first Slam Allen Band with a friend of the family and another friend that I had met. We got together and started the band. I didn’t know at the time that I had something that was unique or different from what everyone else was doing. Back in the day I had just started playing, and learning, and traveling, you know. I became who I am today.
What was the first song you ever learned to play, if you remember?
The first song that really turned me on to the blues was “How Blue Can You Get?” by B.B. King. When I heard that, man, I was hooked. But even before that, I wanted to be George Benson, even though George Benson mainly played jazz. I figured out that jazz was too hard for me (laughs) so I decided that blues I could apply some of the learning I learned in jazz. So I have a little bit of a different style. That’s what I did.
So this is the first cruise ship you’ve ever worked on?
This is the first cruise ship that I’ve worked on for this amount of time. I’ve worked out in Scandinavia at a festival once which was on a cruise ship. Let me tell you something… I had said that I was never going to get on another cruise ship again. I got so sick over there on that ship (laughs). When this opportunity came about I said I had to give it another try. I’m glad I did.
Would you ever consider trying out for American Idol, The Voice, or any reality show like that?
Not at all. Actually, this is something that a lot of people don’t know. I did this secretly, I wanted to see what it was all about. I went down to one of the competitions, I think it was America’s Got Talent or something like that, it was held in New York City. It was just a big circus to me. It was just a lot of people – a lot of wanna-bes, tryin’-to-be’s, and I think they were already looking for somebody to give them the ratings on the show. True talent I don’t think they were looking for at the time. I don’t see myself trying that again.
If you could sing a song with any artist live or dead who would it be?
Man, Otis Redding. I wish he were still here. Could you imagine the music he would be putting out? He floored so many people, especially myself. Man, if I could just sit, write, and sing with him that would be a beautiful thing.
What would you consider to be your most requested song?
You know, people, unless they’re a real die-hard blues fan, they just want to hear some authentic blues. They’ll just say “play some B.B. King” or “play some Muddy Waters.” Sometimes they’ll say a particular song, but usually they just want to hear those particular artists. Believe it or not, the most requested song is called “Mustang Sally.”
Yeah, “Mustang Sally.” Everyone knows that song. That’s the most overplayed song in America! (laughs). People play it all the time, man, all the time. That’s one of the most requested songs ever.
Would you want to stay performing on a cruise ship the next few years? Or would you rather work on land?
I like what I’m doing here. What’s so great about it is that the audience comes to you. I don’t have to do all the traveling – it takes five minutes to get to the gig and five minutes to get back to your cabin. When you’re traveling it’ll take you days to get home. I really like performing on-land too, though. I’m a road dog, I’ve been doing this for so long – almost 15 to 20 years now. I like going different places and seeing different people. I like traveling in a van and stopping at greasy spoons. That’s what I’m accustomed to, but this is like a paid vacation (laughs).
What’s your favorite song to perform?
That question right there… I have so many of them. It depends on what mood I’m in. I’ll come in some nights and I’ll want to hear some soul music, then some nights I’ll want to play some old dirty juke joint blues. It depends on what mood I’m in at that time that dictates what my favorite song is to play.
So how did your current band get together? How did you guys form? You seem so natural together on-stage.
The bass player and the drummer I know from New York. They live in New York, so we met up and played together in New York. The organ player I met on the ship, he was playing on the ship. He was playing solo piano and came here and sat in with me. I liked the way he played so I kind of threw him in to the band. We’ve been together for about a year now. There’s a lot of experience in these guys, everyone’s older than I am on this stage. I’m the youngest one in the group, and they’ve got so many years of experience that when we get together we just know what to do. They are a great support to me. Great support.
How many albums have you released?
Well, I had one that I recorded on a record label back in 1999. Ever since then, I never really tried to get on another record label or anything. I just wanted to hit the road and get some more experience as a blues band. I wanted to learn my craft more. Since then, I joined the James Cotton Blues Band. James Cotton was linked to Muddy Waters, and Muddy Waters was the blues. I was traveling the world with them and James Cotton for a while. Now it gave me the experience and I’m linked to one of the original blues masters. I recorded one for the record company and three on my own, independent releases.
So you’ve been doing this for quite a while.
I’ve been doing this for a while. I’m one of the bigger unknowns that there is right now. If they had a GRAMMY for it I’d probably win it every year (laughs).
You’ve played in Canada a couple of times…
Oh yeah. I’ve played in Canada and I really like going to Canada because music is really appreciated up year. One city in particular – Toronto. Toronto is like the music capital to me. The people are just so friendly and so into the music that it makes me not want to leave. I want to try to become a Canadian (laughs).
You’d have to deal with the snow again though.
Yeah, that’ll make me change my mind pretty fast. USA! USA I’ll stay.
Anything you think people should know about you?
It’s been a spiritual journey for me. It’s more than just playing music. It’s about taking the positive energy and taking it to the people and they get it, they actually get what I’m doing and it’s a beautiful thing. That’s the thing – people have got to come to experience it and understand what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of blues players out there trying to do it; but once you’ve experienced the way I present it you’ll get it. I know you get it.
Oh, I get it. I know.
Yeah, I know you do. You know what.. when I do interviews with people I say, if they’ve seen me before, “tell me what you felt.” When you write an interview just say what you felt. That’ll probably be what I’m going to say anyway (laughs).
You bring a whole different atmosphere to the blues that I’ve ever seen, on both cruise ship or on land. You come in to check you out and it’s like you’re right there in the South.
Aw, thank you. Thank you kindly, I appreciate it. See, you get it. That’s what made me see what I do. I listen to other people, and I want to hear about what other people feel about what I’m doing. I don’t have an ego or an attitude or anything like that, I do what I do, and I try to do it the best that I can so I can make people happy. That’s it. That’s what I want to do.
Any idea what the future has in store?
I don’t know. That’s a question mark for me. I go where I go. I’m a spiritual person and when it tells me that it’s time to go, I go. Sometimes a situation will arise and it’ll tell me where to go. I never expected to even be here, you know, and all of a sudden I’m here. Wherever my spirit takes me then it’ll be time.
You can connect with Slam Allen by: