THE STORY OF MOJO
(HOW I GOT IT BACK)
Written by Ash Grunwald
Mojo is a five year documentation of the twists and turns of a turbulent time in my life. It is my life’s work up until this point.
The initial part of it happened at a time when I was incredibly busy promoting my Now album in 2015. A benevolent and philanthropic Grammy Award Winning producer by the name of Brian Brinkerhoff, who was a fan of my music, flew me over to America and wanted to introduce me to America and the rest of the blues world as a blues guitarist and musician.
Brian called me up right after my Now album was released and had me on a plane over to LA where two of the most incredible weeks of my life unfolded before my eyes. Brian and co-producer Carla Olsen pulled together some absolute legends to create the record with me.
Barry Goldberg, who plays keys on the record, played keys for Bob Dylan at the Newport Jazz Festival, where Dylan famously went electric and got booed by the hardcore folk crowd. Barry had the cord to his organ cut. Barry has also played extensively with Leonard Cohen, Joe Cocker and Tom Jones.
Reggie McBride plays bass on the record. He could be one of the most famous and most recorded bass players of all time. Recording initially with Stevie Wonder, Reggie has played with B.B. King, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Van Morrison, and played on all of the Jimmy Barnes soul albums.
Alvino Bennet was on drums. He used to play drums for Willie Dixon, and more recently has been playing drums for Slash. Carla Olsen, who co-produced the album with Brian, played in Bob Dylan’s band at one point. She’s had her songs recorded by John Fogerty, and has played live with Eric Clapton, John Fogerty and Mick Taylor.
Johnny Lee Schell was the recording engineer for the album. Johnny used to perform with Bonnie Raitt as her only guitarist when they would tour the country as a duo, playing festivals and entire tours. Johnny has also performed with Taj Mahall over the years, played on Jimmy Barnes’ The Rhythm And The Blues in 2009, and has also played with Lucinda Williams, the Neville Brothers and BB King, and would you believe it - worked with Renée Geyer on her album So Lucky (1981).
Terry Evans singing on the record would have to be my ultimate highlight. I had to change my flights at the last minute to make it happen and to witness the greatness that is Terry. It was one of the best experiences of my life, to be guiding him in the studio on my songs that I’d written!
Terry Evans is an African American man from the depths of Mississippi - think Blind Boys of Alabama, but with this silky smooth voice doing it all on his own. He was actually made famous in the Crossroads movie that I used to watch as a kid. He was so influential on my upbringing to blues music. He also played in Ry Cooder’s band... so this band was just phenomenal.
When I left LA and came home, Brian and Carla brought two extra guests to the record. These were Eddie ‘The Chief’ Clearwater, to sing on a track called ‘How Many More Years’, and Kim Wilson, one of the most renowned harmonica players in the world, also known as the leader of the Thunderbirds with Jimmy Vaughn. Kim has played with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Mark Knopfler. Kim plays harmonica on the record.
Unfortunately, Terry Evans and Eddy ‘The Chief’ Clearwater are both no longer with us.
Once I returned home in 2015 I lost all contact with the producer Brian, who we now know underwent some traumatic health problems. After many attempts at trying get in contact during those three years, I gave up on this album and thought it was to be lost to the sands of time.
In 2018 I had a new manager come on board, who along with the help of Carla Olson and Saul Davis, was able to track down these lost tapes in LA, and I finally got my hands on them.
This discovery of the tapes in 2018 paired ever so perfectly with my growth mindset at the time. 2018 was a year of massive personal change, as I quit a career-long drinking habit, along with trying to get my mind into a lot of positive psychology. I began to really drive things forward from a spiritual basis. I went back into the studio with renewed vigour -
I had found my mojo, which had completely disappeared along with the tapes.
I decided to pick up where I left off, and really try and make something of this album. Whilst I had been living over in Bali and playing some shows in Australia and Europe, I had started to use the time to recuperate and take a look at my life. Once I got those tapes, I went into the studio in Byron Bay with long time collaborator and friend Jordan Power, who helped me re-track some of the guitars and vocals and add a few new songs to the mix.
Back home, I enlisted some of my favourite Australian musicians to feature on the record, to not only give the record some extra life, but to make it feel like the ultimate blues record. These included Kasey Chambers, The Teskey Brothers, Mahalia Barnes, Ian Collard, and Harry James Angus (The Cat Empire).
Meanwhile, I had been working hard, experiencing a joy I hadn’t experienced in 30 years of playing the guitar, and practising like a madman. I was trying to become the best guitarist I could possibly be, even taking lessons from a local “shred master” in Bali. Lo and behold, the effort that I put into that came back to me and I felt 15 years old again. My excitement about playing music, and especially playing the guitar, is something I hadn’t felt since I started this whole journey.
Writing this album, I was drawing influence from many of the guitar greats such a Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, and some modern day heroes of mine, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. By some incredible twist of fate, I was the lucky recipient of Joe Bonamassa’s generosity, who leant his guitar playing to me for the Townes Van Zandt cover ‘Waiting Around To Die’. Joe’s treatment of the song was very deft, and could bring a tear to your eye.
At this point, Mojo represents a journey through my own valley of darkness, and out the other side into the fresh sunlit glory of optimism and positivity. This may sound like a cliché, but when you’ve lived it it feels very different.
These words may not sound like what most people think of as a blues album. But you will find all shades on Mojo. This is my story.
I’m so grateful to the universe, my wife and my team around me for giving me the space and encouragement to get back on my feet and start leaning forward into the mountains of musical accomplishment that lay before me.
I’m just so glad to have my mojo back!