This January 16th through 20th, blues performers hungry for glory (and for Memphis’ famed soul food, a topic that came up in every interview) will descend on Beale Street from all over the world. Each year for 34 years, the Memphis-based Blues Foundation has brought the most talented musicians from its affiliate organizations to the Bluff City to compete in the International Blues Challenge (IBC). Daniel Eriksen, representing the Oslo Bluesklubb in the solo/duo category, is one of those performers. He and I talked desert island albums, Sun Studio, and the arctic slide.
The Memphis Flyer: Memphis is a long way from home for you. Are you excited about traveling so far to compete in the IBC?
Daniel Eriksen: Yes, I love Memphis and have been here many times before. I even recorded at Sun Studio when Matt Ross-Spang worked there. I look forward to coming back. It’s a beautiful city with great food, fine people, atmosphere, and culture.
Tell us a little more about that Sun Studios record.
We had a day off while in Memphis in 2011, and found out that Sun Studio was not booked, so we booked the night. Since we only had about four or five hours, we planned on doing one or two songs that we could include on an upcoming album.
But when we listened back, the overall sound was so special that we knew it couldn’t be copied anywhere else, so we just went ahead and recorded all 10 songs live in studio. The magic in the walls kicked in. It turned out it was Bike Night on Beale Street, so on a few ballads you can hear Harleys roaring, so we had to cut it down to an EP!
How was working with Ross-Spang?
Matt was very nice, a great engineer and a good guy, he even drove us home after.
I remember the first time I played on Beale Street, and I have to admit it felt pretty cool.
Does playing in Memphis hold any special significance for you?
I have played a lot in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, but never in Memphis. It’s time, and I’m ready.
So it sounds like you don’t mind a lot of traveling to perform. Do you have any good stories from the road?
I travel a lot and have performed in countries like Russia, the U.S.A., and all over Europe. You get used to traveling, and it’s a big part of the job. I once spent an hour talking to Peter Green in a small hotel in a fjord in Norway, not knowing it was he — I didn’t recognize him and I suspect that is why he talked to me for so long. I didn’t ask the usual questions, I guess … Another cool memory was when Steve "Little Steven" van Zandt tweeted about my concert and used the words “Fucking amazing!”
Blues is steeped in tradition. What sources do you find compelling when you play? What musicians have influenced you?
Being a slide guitarist, I usually listen to other “sliders.” I have, of course, listened to a lot of the old players such as Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Blind Willie Johnson. Among modern players, there are two artists that have had the biggest influence on my style, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet and work with both — either as an opening act or sitting in with them: John Mooney from Rochester/New Orleans and Roy Rogers from California.
Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?
I grew up within the Arctic Circle way up north in Norway. That’s why I call my music “Arctic Slide.” I have performed as a professional artist for over 20 years now and have released five albums — one of which won the “Norwegian Grammy,” the Spelleman Award. And one was recorded in Memphis. On the personal side, I have two wonderful kids, a wife, and a cat, love Dutch licorice, and drive a black Chevrolet.
What kind of a set do you plan to play at IBC?
I will be bringing my drummer and we plan on doing a varied, well-balanced set of original songs, a few favorite covers, and some traditionals.
We are in Memphis to give it all, and get as far as we can in the competition. We also hope to show international promoters and booking people, that a fine swamp-delta-billy-blues duo could be a cool addition to their festivals and clubs. In addition we look forward to seeing a lot of friends, who are also in the competition this year.
Any other plans while you’re in the area?
Well, there’s the food, shopping for clothes and shoes at Winfield’s, the drum center … I guess we have to see how far we go in the competition, but if we have time, we might see some friends down in Clarksdale.
Do you have a desert island album? You know, if you were stuck alone on a deserted island, what would you bring to listen to?
John Mooney’s Dealing With the Devil
has been a longtime favorite. It’s a live solo performance from Germany, and he just kills it!
I also have a radio broadcast of Roy Roger’s performance at the Notodden Blues Festival in 1996 that I would like to bring. Those recordings have been my encyclopedia of slide guitar licks for a long time.
Is there anything else you want Memphis to know?
I haven’t seen the schedules yet, but please come see us. We won’t hold back. We sure look forward to seeing y’all, and we’ll be giving away free copies of our Sun recordings, the Grey Goose
The 34th National Blues Challenge takes place in multiple venues on Beale Street, January 16th through 20th. https://blues.org/international-blues-challenge/