Interview with Lee O’Nell Blues Gang
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Lionel Wernert: Well, When I was a child, we had to move to another town because of my father’s job. There I met a young boy 3 years older than I was and we grew up together; playing as a child first, then listening to the music his old brother made us discover. Legendary bands such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, and Rainbow among others. Then, together we started playing guitar, spending our time slowing down the vinyl records to understand and practice every riff and scale each phrasing, you know what I mean!
At his time I would have never guessed that this young boy became the famous French Blues man he is now: Fred CHAPELLIER, well known in France for his 25-year career and his tribute to Peter Green. And as life went on, we lost each other for a few years, while I spent my time practicing again and again, listening to rock, and old blues roots like Albert King, Freddie King, Eric Clapton, Peter Green among others till today… If I hadn’t gotten into music, I don’t know what would be my life today… Haha!
Gipsy Bacuet: My parents got me into music without really doing it on purpose, since they bought a piano when I was 6, thinking it was a nice way to decorate their home. I immediately started to put my little fingers on it, trying some melodies that I invented, so they decided to bring me to a music school where I studied classical piano for 6 years. Then stopped because I didn’t appreciate the competition we had to succeed to access the next level… I went back to that same school 15 years after to start jazz lessons, and discovered I was better at singing than playing piano… And if I hadn’t gotten into music, I guess I would have been a journalist or a lawyer … not so fun isn’t it?
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Gipsy: Haha !! We are a couple on stage and on the city, and you know, Lionel is a kind of, no he is really a hyper-active person. And his guitars are never so far from him. Sometimes, really a few times, he says « let’s watch a movie or a Netflix series ! ». Then I think, yes, what a good idea! But he can’t help watching the screen playing guitar, all the time !!
Lionel: Yes, that’s the sad truth for people who live with me! When I’m not playing music, I listen to music !!
Gipsy: His brain is literally always thinking music, new riffs, new melody, etc… I can cook in the kitchen and see him coming a guitar on the shoulder saying « hey! Listen to that, I guess I’ve got a new song! »
How long has your band been around?
Lionel: I decided to form the group and chose the musicians in 2 weeks in May 2019, after my friend, my brother had invited us as guests to one his concerts. At that time, we were playing in a duet Gipsy and I, and Fred said to me: « Bro’, you’d better form your own band, you have so many things to say. Let’s go, hurry up! »
Gipsy: And less than 6 months after, we entered the studio to record our first album « Different Shades Of Love », released in September 2020.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
Gipsy: We are from France, not native but living in Reims, the capital of Champagne, and the city where the kings were crowned in the Middle Ages!
Lionel: Unfortunately, France has not a real Blues Rock culture. It’s not the kind of music our country claims! For most of the French public, if you are not a black person, if you are French you simply can’t play the Blues! Of course, some people are connoisseurs and don’t think like that, but it’s really difficult when you are French to get consideration and recognition in the Blues-Rock world.
Lionel: Yes, in France, and I don’t know how is it going on other countries, but here, they used to catalog every music in well-sealed compartments. I you play blues roots, well let’s play blues roots for example. So it’s difficult for them to catalog Lee O’Nell Blues Gang, cause it’s a clever mix of vintage and modernity. In our music, you may as well find rock, soul, jazz, blues and even rumba…
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Gipsy: It’s a word game with Lionel's first name Lee O’Nell (Lionel) Blues Gang, with a nod to Gary Moore for the Irish sound!
Lionel: She said it all!
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Lionel: You know, we started the group in 2019, released our first album in Sept 2020 and the pandemic had a very bad impact on us, also on the other bass of course, but as a new group we can say that we appeared with an album very well received by french radios, press, and the public, but we only have time to make some few concerts before all was stopped again here in France. That’s why I decided during this pandemic to produce a second album « This is us » and we have to start again.
Gipsy: Now, things start to change because we succeed in crossing the French borders… Some radio shows in Canada, the USA, the UK, Belgium, Germany, and Holland are interested in us, and gigs are soon coming in Europe…
Lionel: So, my most memorable show is to ba able to make a fabulous concert with Lee O’Nell Blues Gang just before my friend and his band, Fred Chapellier last year.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Gipsy: Unfortunately, we have only played in France since 2019. But things are changing, are we are looking forwards to playing this year in Belgium, we are waiting for a little German Tour too… And of course, being able to play in all of Europe, especially in Holland and UK would be great! Generally specking, I like playing in little clubs where the public is near the artists…
Lionel: In the USA and Canada too… To play in countries where people like your music just for the pleasure to listen to good music and sharing a moment …
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Gipsy: Such a question! I’d like to share the stage with Jade MACRAE, who is an amazing Australian singer and also a background vocalist for Joe BONAMASSA. She wrote with me the last track of our album « This is us » (Just need a prayer). I’d like Bonnie Raitt too, or Willie Nelson, Joanne Show Taylor, and all those Lionel will tell you, cause I love them too…
Lionel: The dream for me would be to share the stage with Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, and Christone Kingfish Ingram
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Gipsy: Well, that is the advice our friend Fred CHAPELLIER always says to me, I guess almost 15 or 20 times a year: « Little Padawan, be patient and control your emotions » .
Lionel: « Trust your instincts and practice again and again »
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
GIpsy « The way you’re going on to be an artist, especially with your own band and your own songs will be so long and so hard. You will have to put a lot of caps on your head at the same time out of stage: manager, booker, producer, press officer, accountant, technical manager, driver… Be sure that all those aspects won’t afraid you, cause you will not be only a singer, girl !»
Lionel: « You know guy, there will always be some who will tell you that you’d better or you’d rather go in that or another way, so you can hear them, but most of all keep the way you’re taking. It’s your own way. It’s always easy to say you’d better this or that when you don’t do anything… »
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Lionel: None than another, they all have a deep sense for me.
Gipsy: I love them all but for my part, if I have to choose one, it’s « When you were a child » that I wrote to my loving daughter Léa who is 16 years old. Every day that passes, she grows a little more and I am more and more proud of the young woman she is becoming. But I can’t help feeling the need, the protection and attention that I felt when she was only 2, and then I was her universe, her point of reference. I am still, but I feel that she escapes to me to live her own life… I can only think of what my mother and all the parents of the world experience at the same time. This song is even much more important that Lionel succeeds in giving exactly the sound and the atmosphere with melancholy but without sadness. He is a father too, so I guess he recognizes himself in my lyrics, even if we have no common kids together…
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Lionel & Gipsy: « Never again » from our first album « Different Shades Of Love » which is a song about violence against women. This song is particularly important for us in regard to its meaning. It’s also the most requested on stage.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
GIpsy: The only thing that is recurrent is that I write the lyrics and Lionel is the only one to compose the music. As english is not my first language (so please forgive my faults if there are any…) so I ask for some help from friends. Neal BLACK, who is a Texan living in France since 1990 with a great career here, Alain LEADFOOT RIVET a french songwriter with an american culture and way of singing, and Jade MACRAE, Joe BONAMASSA’s background vocalist.
Lionel: And then, it depends. Sometimes Gipsy gives me some lyrics with the way she would like the music to be, or sometimes, as I work mostly by night, she wake up in the morning and find on her computer some music I recorded the night before with a note saying: « Wrote me something on that! »
We use to work together but also in separate sides. We put together our ideas, it almost match every time!
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Gipsy: We like that people can recognize a part of their own story across our songs. We talk about universal ideas like love, life, human relationships, and we can talk about that with a king of melancholy, sadness, anger, and disappointment but also joy, happiness, and a lot of hope.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Lionel: No, we never had any disagreement in the band, just because I was very demanding with the musicians I wanted to integrate the Gang. I of course wanted the best of the area, and also some very respectful persons, some guys with experience, with different influences who knew exactly what is the job and its difficulties, the compromises they could be able to make sometimes, and most of all, some guys who really have humanity. So till now, no problem, and I’m sure that will not happen soon…
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Gipsy: This year, there will be great opportunities to meet some new audience, cause will be openers for very great artists like Ana Popovic or the Cinelli Brothers …
Lionel: We will start to play in Belgium, we are also waiting news for a little tour in Germany.
Gipsy: And if there is any booking agency in UK, USA, Holland, Belgium who is reading us, please contact us … We are ready to cross the French borders to meet you !
Lionel: See you soon on the road!