Brandon Santini

There are many different opinions
as to what the future of the blues harmonica will be.

Memphis vocalist and harmonica player Brandon Santini is undeniably a worthy player to keep an eye on as the latest surge of young blues artists leave their footprint in blues history.  His name is worthy of conversations that include Jason Ricci, Billy Gibson, Dennis Gruenling, Rick Estrin and other frontline harmonica players by combining his love and respect for traditional blues with a present, colorful style of playing that is often compared to James Cotton or Paul Butterfield.  Raised in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, Brandon purchased his first harmonica in 1997 at the age of fifteen when his mother took him to the local music store upon his request.  He founded the Blues Music Award nominated band Delta Highway in 2003 and relocated to Memphis where he absorbed the sounds and culture of the Delta and North Mississippi Hill Country, honing his craft night after night, sweating it out in local Beale Street clubs just like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King did decades before him. 

This Time Another Year

“This Time Another Year” is Brandon’s second album, recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis and features twelve dynamic performances from his former live band (playing over 220 shows together in 2012) while enlisting the help of good friends Victor Wainwright and Chris Stephenson.  This sophomore effort was recorded live over a span of four days with minimal overdubs which created a very “live” sound.  The album debuted at #12 on The Living Blues Radio chart spending three months in the Top 20 as well as picking up a prestigious nomination for “Contemporary Blues Album” in the 2014 Blues Music Awards . Brandon was also nominated for a 2014 Blues Music Award in the category of, “Instrumentalist- Harmonica” and a Blues Blast Music Award in the category of, “Sean Costello Rising Star Award!”

We recently had the pleasure to chat with Brandon and learn more about his music, thoughts and what he has planned for the future. We think you will enjoy hearing what he has to say and be sure to catch this great player when he comes to your town! You will be glad you did.

Here we go...

  • Tell us a little about what brought you to where you are today? How you got started, influences etc.

I started playing when I was fifteen after being inspired by John Popper of Blues Traveler. I was fifteen in 1997 and their music was still being played pretty heavily on mainstream radio which is what I listened to at that age. I remember buying a Blues Traveler CD and reading what type of harmonica Popper played so I had my Mom take me to the music store to get one and I remember trying to emulate him for the longest time. I hadn’t seen the original Blues Brothers movie yet but I remember seeing Blues Brothers 2000 and hearing Paul Butterfield’s “Born In Chicago” and seeing Junior Wells and Charlie Musselwhite in the movie blowing harp. So I looked into those guys more and bought their music and starting learning about Little Walter, James Cotton, and Kim Wilson. I felt that I could play blues harp much more naturally than what John Popper was doing and I gravitated towards the blues and new that I wanted to do nothing else but play the blues! I still really love what Popper does and it’s very impressive and I consider myself a big fan although a lot of folks within the blues industry would strongly disagree with me. He’s certainly not a blues player and he doesn’t try to be. He’s more of a mixture of Jimi Hendrix and Be Bop Jazz. He’s an innovator of the instrument and I’m very thankful for that. I always tell my friends who don’t care for his playing, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.” I owe him a lot of credit for inspiring me to pick up the instrument.

Outside of Paul Butterfield, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Little Walter and Kim Wilson, I would have to say that all of the legendary players are big influences on me and my playing, you know, Sonny Boy Williamson I and II, Big Walter, Sonny Terry, William Clarke but the modern day guys that are still doing it and influence me are guys like Rick Estrin, Rod Piazza, Gary Smith, John Nemeth, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia, Big Pete, Billy Gibson, and Jason Ricci are all influential to me. Guys with great big tone always satisfy my ears.

  • ·What are you and your band doing currently?

Right now I’m entering a new phase of my career. Fresh off of my Blues Music Award nominations I’m inspired more than ever to play and make great great music with good friends. I have a few new additions to my backing band starting with me in January. JL Fulks will be joining on guitar. He’s been living in South Florida in the Boca area for a few years now and is a promising young talent. Nick Hern will be joining on bass from New Orleans. Nick is another promising young talent. Both of those guys are in their early twenties and it’s scary how good they already are.

  • Tell us about your songwriting/recording process and what we can expect on your latest tunes?

I have the tendency to write in a traditional blues sense and I always say I can write the heck out of a traditional blues song but on my last album I had a few songs that were co-written and I used some cover songs that we were playing during our live shows. I honestly don’t think that writing is my strong point lyrically so i’m really looking forward to writing things with the new band members and incorporating some new styles. JL has a cigar box guitar built by Matt Isbell here in Memphis and we are both excited about seeing what possibilities that opens up.

  • What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Well, I hope that I can win both Blues Music Awards in 2014 for “Contemporary Blues Album” and “Instrumentalist- Harmonica” but I’m up against some very very stiff competition in both categories and I can only hope for the best. Whether or not I win either of the awards, I plan to keep doing what I do and continue to make quality blues music and pay homage to my inspirations. A lot of people thank me for being “torch bearer” or for “carrying the flag” and it really makes me feel good that so many people appreciate such good music and what I do.

  • What music are you enjoying currently?

Well, you can always count on me to be listening to harmonica of some sort. Right now I’m listening to the “Remembering Little Walter” CD that has some great harp players on it. Other than that, i’ve been listening to a lot of Johnny Sansone, Davis Coen, Ray Bonneville, and Motel Mirrors lately.

  • If you could go back in time what would you do differently in your career?

I think I would have laid off the whiskey in my twenties. I spent my twenties heading in the wrong direction personally. My career was rising and my band Delta Highway was nominated for a Blues Music Award in 2009 for “Best New Artist Debut.” My biggest regret is not fully utilizing that nomination and instead we all got caught up in the big party and the lifestyle which ultimately became the demise of the band. Luckily, I made the choice to change all of that along the way and now have great inspiration to stay away from that mess. That inspiration is my wife and the life I live today.

  • If you could play with any musician in history who would it be?

I’d have to say Little Walter. I’d love to be able to be on stage with him.

  • Where do you see your career going in the next five years?

Upward! I want to release atleast two more records in the next five years. I really want to record a live album. That would be so incredible. I’ve always thought of my band to be an incredible live band and I’d like to get that on record.

  • Other than being an artist what did you think about doing as a career when you were a child?

Oh man. I wanted to be so many things but a musician was never one of them. Let’s see, I remember wanting to be a politician, a teacher, a police officer, Secret Service agent, a pro baseball player, garbage man, Batman, race car driver. So yeah, a lot of different things!

  • What has been your best experience in the business? And Why?

Right now I’m finally starting to see things pay off for me. Sometimes and very often you can find yourself working so hard for something you believe in and feel as if you’re getting nowhere fast. The music business is a tough industry and most people think it’s a profession where you go party all night, go to bed at 5 a.m., wake up at 2 pm, go play in the evening and do it all over again. Well, it is that way for some people but for the most driven musicians, the ones who really want to succeed, we are constantly working hard with our team to make sure the machine is running smooth and the oil is changed every 3,000 miles. Long story short, seeing my hard work pay off is a beautiful thing.

  • What has been your worst experience in the business? And Why?

I don’t really have anything that comes to mind for this one other than having to fight my way through barriers to get into different venues.

  • What would you like to be your contribution to music biz?

I feel that it’s my duty to continue this great genre of music that we call the Blues. It’s such a valuable part of our history and culture that it needs to be continued. Unfortunately it’s a very small genre in the grand scheme of the music industry but the ones who play it and the fans who support it are truly in love with it and it makes me so happy to see those people. Look at The South Florida Blues Society for instance. They are one of the strongest blues societies in the world and they are some of the most passionate blues lovers I have ever seen. They travel all over the country to see blues festivals and have been so very supportive of me and so many other musicians. It really makes me feel good to know that they care so much and actually do come out to the shows when I’m down there. I feel like they have kind of adopted me as an honorary South Floridian and they are people that I consider friends.

  • How do you feel the Internet has changed the business? Positive and Negative?

This is a really good question because myself and pretty much anyone you know can say that the internet has changed not only the music business but the world. Some for the better and some for the worse. For what I do as a blues musician, I’d say that the positive points are that exposure has become a lot easier with social media and things like that. Although Facebook and Twitter can be very annoying at times, it keeps you in constant contact with your fan base and allows you to grow your fan base a lot easier and quicker.

As for the negative points, sites like Pandora and Spotify have really helped a lot of artists, like myself, get into the ears of new listeners. However those sites have special regulations applied to them to not pay as much in royalties as providers such as Sirius XM and others. Most of the times you don’t even get a penny per play from them. It’s sad.

  • Where do you see business and music moving to?

I really have no clue to be honest with you. It’s so unpredictable and just as I think I see a trend, it trends in another direction. The blues industry doesn’t really move in the same direction as major industries I’ve noticed. It’s kind of it’s own beast. The majority of blues fans are older and typically prefer to buy the physical CD rather than download it for instance. With new sites on the internet popping up so often, you never know what’s going to happen. It will be interesting to watch what transpires in this ever so rapidly changing world.

  • How can the business side and artists better work together?

It’s always nice to people working together on both ends. Sharing contacts and not being defensive is a very helpful thing and I see a lot of that in the blues.


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