Interview with Eric Garcia aka “Uncle Scotchy” of Juke
Are you from Miami originally? If not when did you move here and what made you want to stay?
“I actually thought that I was 3rd generation Miami (or “Miamuh”) until I recently found out that my grandmother was from Key West, and not Miami. So I suppose I’m kind of a “Conch” too. The scientific term for what I am is “Jewban” I think. My Ma came from a nice Jewish family and went to Miami High. Then one day she buys a brand new ’66 Mustang Fastback from a handsome Cuban car salesman and here I am.
I guess growing up here was something like if “I Love Lucy” was shot on the set of “Cocaine Cowboys,” if that makes any sense. I actually have always despised Miami; even as a child I couldn’t wait to leave, and I have several times. But one thing or another keeps dragging my ass back here… If I die in Miami I’ll be so disappointed in myself.
What’s the first instrument you learned how to play? (and if it wasn’t the harmonica, then how’d you end up getting so damn good at it?)
“I played a little bass at the end of high school ’cause my best friend played guitar and we’d fuck around and try to play Metallica songs. Then, at 17, I went to the University of California at Santa Cruz (go Banana Slugs!) and my roommate puts on the album “Hard Again” by Muddy Waters and I heard James Cotton just blowing the fuck out of the harp. I asked my roommate, “What the hell is that?” He said, “That’s a harmonica, dumbass.” I had heard the harp before, but it never sounded like that; so I decided that I HAD to learn how to play that thing. Over the years I annoyed countless people with my practicing. I was one of those assholes who always had his harmonica with him and was always ready to jam with everyone, whether they liked it or not.
I actually had an ex-girlfriend who tried to make a rule forbidding me from playing around her. We’d fight all the time about it. I’d yell, “One day I’m gonna play this on a stage in front of people, and they are gonna pay me and they are gonna fucking love it!” She’d scream back “NEVER!!!”
So, I guess to answer your question, practice. Duh. I used to fall asleep in bed with the thing, man.”
The harmonica has always seemed to me like one of those things that’s easy to pick up but hard to master; would you agree with that?
“That is exactly the truth. I fucking despise the clown that gets up there and starts huffing on it like half a ‘tard. Learn your shit… I did… On top of that, it pisses me off even more that the crowd usually goes crazy when random, douche-singer whips it out and makes sounds like he’s sawing a cat.
On the other side of that, there is actually a large, underground faction of harmonica elitists out there. They seem not unlike the crowd that hits every Star Trek convention. They idolize ridiculously good harmonica players and argue via blogs and chat rooms about which are better and why. Chromatic players (the big harmonica with the button) despise Diatonic players (ten-holed harmonicas like the ones I play) and call them idiots. Diatonic players hate Chromatic players, saying that they are soulless snobs. It’s a huge, dorky battle that has been going on for years and I want no part of it. I don’t even much like soloing anymore. It’s more about comping and making the song as a whole sound better where it fits.
I stopped wanting to be the world’s best harmonica player many years ago.”
What came first, being a musician or being a booking agent? Which would you say gives you more ulcers?
“Ha! I became an official member of my first band in San Diego in ’94. Then I wound up befriending and recording with one of the top bands out there at the time, Superunloader. That seemed to get me a lot of cred with the music scene out there. So, I was bartending at this little dive at the time called The Dog. I told them I could get Superunloader to play and they couldn’t believe it. I was getting all the top bands in town to play this little shithole. I guess it got kind of trendy and the place was always packed. Next thing I knew, real live music venues came calling and I wound up being the booking agent for a couple of the coolest clubs in town.
Now, that sounds all cool and fun, but it’s really not. Booking bands is a much more stressful, time consuming occupation that anyone can imagine. There is little reward if everything goes great, and loads of shit on your head if you fuck up. It’s almost like being an umpire or referee in sports….no one knows your name unless you blow a call.
Being a musician isn’t really stressful as long as you are playing. It’s when you can’t get a gig or paid that is stressful. There is nothing better than being a musician and playing a good gig at a great venue. You wake up the next day after a great show, and you feel better than normal all day…then it fades again at night.
Booking bands for a club and playing music are actually two opposite acts. Someday I hope I’m in a position to make a decision between the two.
As someone who plays more of let’s say a niche style of music, what’s your experience been performing in Miami? Are there a lot of other blues-type of acts around town (I know there are a few like Big Poppa E for example)? Any other local bands you’d recommend for people who dig your sound?
First of all, I hate traditional blues bands today. They are so stereotypical, boring, and hinder the evolution of the genre. “Blues” is a really cool, important music. But what the great guys did, they did. That being said, Poppa E is awesome. He’s got his own style and trancey-groove thing goin that I can always chill to. King Bee is a great band. They are finally recording again and have a new singer. I think they are searching for a newer identity and when they find it, it’s gonna really turn heads.
The Deaf Poets are kind of cool, but they take themselves entirely too seriously. I get early Black Keys in skinny pants with hipster attitude kind of vibe. Good luck to them. Looks like they’re doing pretty well.
I like Ketchy Shuby and dig what they are trying to do.
Otherwise, I have a lot of local bands that I like, but no one is doing what we do. Maybe there is a reason for that, huh?
What was the hardest part of getting this album together? What would you do differently when/if you get to work on the next?
The first album, “Lungbutter –the blues basement tapes”, was released in 2008. It was all home recordings with musicians that are no longer in JUke.
This is the first time that the lineup is 100% solid. No subs. If one guy can’t make a gig, we don’t play. Evan Lamb, the guitarist/background vocalist, is great at arranging and organizing what’s going on so I can do my thing. He really runs the show. I’m really the only “untrained” musician in the band. Evan, Brian Lange (drums) and Taylor Byrd (bass) are all badass musicians and I’m crazy-lucky to have them.
As far as “Down Low Cool”, it was really a rush-job cause we wanted to have something that represented us when we found out we’d be playing at Wanee (festival) last month. I really like the songs we put out, but we would love more time with it. We recorded the whole thing in basically a couple days and the mixing and mastering was good considering the timeframe, but should have taken more time.
I’ve got lots more songs and I’d like to record about 5 or 6 more, remix/master these 5, and put it all together in one album. The important thing at this point though, is that we have something worth listening to. We play way too many gigs and are constantly asked for CD’s, so we just wanted to make sure we had something to give. We are headed to San Diego to play some shows in the end of June and we are doing a tour to Texas and back in September. If we didn’t have a disk, we’d be just a pack of 4 dummies on the road.
Would you say blues and dive bars go hand in hand? What’s your favorite place to go be in the audience when you’re not on stage?
Man, I used to be so fascinated with dive bars. I loved them and could hit one every night. But I’m not a young man anymore, and nothing good generally happens at 3:30 am when you are arguing the Rolling Stones vs. Led Zeppelin with a stranger at the Seven Seas. To be honest, I dig a night a week with a bottle of whisky and music at home. I get to hear the music I like, ya know.
I do like to go to The Stage to see bands. Not just because I work there and booked the band, but it’s a great place to see a show. As I explained before, booking bands isn’t the most awesome job in the world. So if the venue doesn’t excite me, I simply wouldn’t do it.
What’s the story behind you sometimes used moniker Uncle Scotchy?
Tell me a little about the inspiration behind the album cover and I believe one of the tracks?
Ah, you speak of Down Low Cool and my girlfriend, Valerie, on the cover. First of all, I certainly didn’t want my mug on the cover. I hate artists that just put a big pic of themselves on a record. Isn’t it self-promoting and revealing of one’s self enough to have people listen to songs that you played and wrote yourself? Why not just put the word, “Me!!!” on the cover? Valerie happens to have some modeling experience and is very pretty. “Too pretty” according to the photographer, Greg Gibbs. I wanted kind of a trashy, old-school, Blue Note Records feel to the cover. The jackalope on the wall really brings it all together, I think.
As far as the song, Down Low Cool, I wrote that in about 10 minutes with a riff I had been playing with, on the morning after a Bardot gig. I was hungover as hell, but kind of content with it. I was broke and single at the time, but it was cool. I had just played a fun gig and wasn’t concerned about the future or anything other than what I was gonna drink later that night… That’s Down Low Cool.
I know you guys play a lot of music festivals as well, how is that different from playing at a regular venue and do you prefer one over the other?
Wanee really opened my eyes and confirmed the opinion that I had that as far as JUke being a legitimate festival act. We feed off the crowd a lot, so when I see all those eyes locked into us I go nutz. For days after that show, people were stopping Evan and I at Wanee and taking pictures with us, asking about some of the songs…. These people were there for the goddamn MUSIC. Not to get laid or to front in any way.
I’m sure that if we played only festivals, I’d miss playing bars. But I really trip on the collective energy of festivals.
Anything you want to talk about coming down the pipeline for Eric Garcia and/or Juke?
“We finally have some momentum and the CD release looks really cool. I know that Miami is the absolute worst place for JUke to be at. On the other hand, I guess we don’t have a lot of competition. As long as we keep getting out of town and working I’m not too worried about it.
I’m not in this to get rich or famous. I’m doing it cause I have to. I have great musicians/people in my band, I adore my girlfriend, and I have plenty of gigs.
I’m down low cool, dude.”