I went to see Michael Katon after his gig in Sweden Rock. His handshake is as firm as his grip on the guitar and he is a nice and extremely friendly man. He also gave some autographed CD’s for our competition and some lucky ones might be holding a copy just as you read this.
AOR-E: How long does it take to learn to play guitar like that?
Michael: I’ve been playing since 1966 so 35-36 six years now. But you’re always learning something new, always trying new stuff, messing around with different things…
AOR-E: What were the influences that drove you to play blues and bluesy rock?
Michael: Well, my brother played in a blues band called the Prime Movers Blues Band and there was a guy named Dan Irvine, who writes for the American Guitar Player now, he played in that band and he was a great blues guitarist and he sounded like Stevie Ray Vaughn back in 1965. My brother was in the band with him… he ended up building guitars. He built Albert King’s Flying V etc. He asked me what are you listening to when I was about 13. I said I listen to the Cream and stuff. My brother said you gotta listen some Freddy King and Otis Rush and B.B. King stuff. He stated showing me blues stuff and told me what I should listen to. So that’s kind of what influenced me to play blues. Dan Irvine and my brother…
AOR-E: You’re voice is really raw, kind of a whisky drinker voice…
Michael: Oh yeah, well, I used to drink a lot of whiskey (laughs). I used to smoke a lot too. Actually I liked my voice better when I smoked but I got bad asthma and this other stuff called phistoplasmosis [I’m no doctor but I hope I got it right :-)]that you catch from animals. You can’t spread it to people because you catch it off animals. I used to catch birds and stuff and when I was like 10 years old I caught it and you never get rid of it for the rest of your life. It’s in you lungs and smoking is bad for that. As a matter of fact a doctor told me several years ago that I’m not supposed to have alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, salt or any of that shit…
AOR-E: So you’re living a healthy life then?
Michael: Well no, not really. I’m supposed to sleep 8 hrs a night and exercise (laughs)… the only bad thing I do is caffeine and salt. All that shit is bad for you and I’ve done all that in the past like everybody. I’m kinda lazy and when it starts getting to be hard work to get high I’m too lazy. It’s kind of easy at the moment to be straight, it’s just laziness.
AOR-E: Do you have a family?
Michael: I’ve got a wife and three daughters. And part of the reason that I’m here doing this is to keep them in the university. One is going on her third year now and one will graduate tomorrow from high school and I’m missing it. That’s one of the hazards of being on the road.
AOR-E: Let’s talk about your new album “Bad Machine”. I especially loved the lyrics of “Lost TV Clicker Blues”
Michael: I don’t watch a lot of TV these days. Usually when my family goes to bed I click it on and if I lose my clicker, phew… It’s three in the morning and getting out of my chair if I wanna change something…
AOR-E: I kinda got the feeling that many of your songs develop from personal experiences.
Michael: Yeah, well for example “Lowdown in Swamptown” is just basically about the joints we used to play. Still once in a while you find a place like that. I didn’t do commercial music so we’d have to find these back woods places to play, some little biker bar or something like that… and I live by a swamp. Sometimes when the weather is nice I like to walk down to the swamp and listen to the birds and stuff. It’s kinda scary and fun at the same time you know… weird and dark, animals making sounds, snakes going across the path. I thought of “Lowdown in Swamptown” when I was in the woods. Most of my songs about somebody I know or I’m near. “Bad Machine” is just about the cars and stuff that are a metaphor for Americans. Don’t mess with my Bad Machine…I wrote those songs before September 11th, American McMofo also, but for some reason those words kinda prochained Americans, you know. Like American McMofo, the things you make fun of in America today…I mean the first thing that I saw when I came to Sweden was McDonald’s. So I was sitting at a McDonald’s one night last winter and I was pissed off at something and I was by myself. I got my food and I’m looking at the walls and signs and it was Mc this and Mc that and I just thought aah, McMotherfucker! Slang for motherfucker is mofo and I just thought McMofo, that would make a cool song! Since 9/11 happened the words kinda fit that too, the same with “Bad Machine”.
AOR-E: So it’s the same with the other songs.
Michael: Yeah, all those songs like “The Pierced, Tattooed and Twenty Something Boogie” and many others are about something… “The Detroit Dirty River Blues”, my wife’s from Detroit. Sometimes they wanna put me into blues magazines and I don’t mind, it’s an honour to be in a blues magazine. Since I was a kid all I wanted to do was to be a blues guitarist. “The Detroit Dirty River Blues” has a title called blues and it is a Detroit hard rock song… That was just a joke to me. Sometimes those magazines don’t give me a good review because they say that it’s not really blues. But I don’t claim to be, I just play American music.
AOR-E: What kind of music do you listen?
Michael: All kinds of stuff. mostly hard country, old blues, not much of the new blues I can think of. But also bands like No Doubt, I listened to Pink just a few days ago. I listen to Ted Nugent, he’s Detroit too, he has hard edge to it. You know the song “Detroit Rock City”, there’s a reason why they named their song like that. It’s because Detroit is a rocking place. Detroit is a rough and dangerous place but people there are really cool, real rock n’n roll. That’s why all the bands want to go there. Kid Rock is from Detroit. Actually he’s a lot like me in a way. Just three years ago he was playing down the street at some dump that basically couldn’t afford to pay me. And that’s not much money to begin with. But he just hooked up and came up with something… he’s like me ‘cause you know one minute he’s on tv with Hank Williams Jr. doing some country and stuff and the next minute he’s doing some hard r&b stuff or whatever…
AOR-E: Why the name “Boogie Man from Hell”?
Michael: I live in a place called Hell, so that’s how Boogie Man from Hell originates.
AOR-E: So how’s life in Hell?
Michael: It’s nice, man… I live by a lake and there’s a lot of woods around. I don’t like to leave from there to go to a tour. But as soon as the tour starts it’s fine, I like it, but I don’t like leaving.
Interview & pix by Petri Kautto,