Interview – Eric Tessmer


Thank God for the everlasting blues. Out of all the genres continuously bubbling up to new heights in the modern music scene, the blues has a steady incline as well as passion showed by students of the craft. Blues has successfully permeated almost every genre at hand at some capacity throughout the years. Purveyor of such soulful blues music, Eric Tessmer, is one of those individuals working his magic all the way forward.

Eric has some friends in high places who honor the craft alongside him such as Gary Clark, Jr. He can be seen jamming with him on YouTube in various stunning videos that cause the jaw to drop in awe. “It’s great, Gary and his band are wonderful people and old friends. It was a surreal experience to transfer what we used to do in little Austin clubs in the early 2000s to giant stages in front of sold-out crowds. Gary is killing it right now and deserves every bit of it. He’s the real thing and a kind, gracious human being on top of it.”

His thoughts on the world of the blues is clear. “It’s different, but it’s good, it’s stronger and more widespread than ever. The Internet and social media are helping through exposure of old footage, photos and recordings that I WISH I had access to when I was younger. The players and fans are trading clips, licks, lessons and tips instantly across thousands of miles. I know that sounds silly to mention in this day and age, and it almost makes me feel old saying it, but it’s notable because it’s such a beautiful thing to see and it is EXACTLY the sort of connectivity/interaction that everyone was hyped about around the advent of the Internet. So, way to go, ‘Information Superhighway’!”

Musically, the exploration never stops even when it is hard to state with ease. “That’s a heavy, open-ended question and there’s two answers that allow me to keep it brief: Technically: tone, fluidity and songwriting. Organically: energy transfer to the listener. I believe they’re inseparable from each other.”

Just living in the music is its own reward. “This may sound weird, but every minute of every hour of the days and years spent practicing. Every minute of it was ‘worth it’. The constantly working towards the goal of translating the sounds knocking around in my head. That’s probably not the normal answer, but I think people get caught up in the flashy stuff: a big show or an award, but I’m more fascinated by the tireless pursuit.”

Ideal shows are a piece of cake to choose from. “An Austin City Limits (ACL) television taping [would be great]. Seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan on ACL when I was a kid changed the course of my life. It gravitated me towards Austin and cemented the musical journey that I’ve been on since childhood. It would bring things full-circle in a way.”

Eric is a professional champ and nothing seems to stop him from the music. “DISCLAIMER: DON’T EVER DO THIS! In late 2011 I was cleaning out a toolbox of guitar stuff and absent-mindedly grabbed a loose razor blade, used for making straight cuts on instrument cables. It cut my left index fingertip badly. I was facing a few weeks with a full schedule of shows, so I did my best to fashion a synthetic finger tip out of gauze and superglue. This was maybe four hours before a show. By the second song that night the whole thing came off and I was bleeding EVERYWHERE. I’ve bled on guitars before, but this was another level. We found blood on the bottom head of the floor tom. People in the crowd went INSANE. Blood makes people act funny. I remember they seemed like such mild-mannered white collar types at the start of the night, but they had ripped the stall off the bathroom door and gotten in various fist-fights by the end of it… That’s not even the worst of it! A doctor friend stitched me up in his kitchen the next day with the strongest stitches he could find, anchoring one through my fingernail. He saved my finger, and my life. So then I played two weeks on stitches, which was almost worst than playing on the open wound! It’s the most profound pain I’ve ever experienced. The kind of pain that expands your awareness of the universe or something ha-ha, I don’t know how to explain it. It was so unnecessary, yet it was so important to me at the time. Like the old saying goes, ‘if you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.’”

Music in 2017 is widely different than ever before, and the blues man had his thoughts. “Overall, I think it’s in a good place. Good and bad music will always exist, as long as people and opinions exist. I think the reason music is being made are generally the same that they’ve always been. There’s people who do it for money and attention, people who do it for the art/expression and then there’s people who do it to connect with other people. Of course those three ‘people’ exist inside every musician, only the proportions vary. The delivery and accessibility of music have definitely changed. The DIY model has been validated more than ever and that’s an amazing advancement in many ways. It’s interesting to hear what comes out when record labels and radio playlists don’t control what you hear, but the absence of the old label practice of ‘Artist Development’ is also evident. Sometimes I hear artists who show a lot of promise, but release stuff that isn’t quite ‘ready’. Of course, that loops back to my statement about opinions ha-ha.”

When not working the guitar, other forms of inspiration seep in. “I’ve always been fascinated with hand-painted signs from the 1930s-1950s, so I recently bought some brushes and I’ve been practicing the basic techniques of hand-lettering when I can. I love that whole mid-century done-by-hand uniqueness. Today’s technology makes me appreciate the ‘primitive’ more and more. Of course, it isn’t primitive at all: it’s a highly-refined skill that you have to develop through hours and hours of practice. So, I get to enjoy hours of frustrating parallels to my musical endeavors!”

Old school flicks help keep the musician relaxed when not on the move. “Ha-ha, to be completely honest, I don’t remember the last movie I went to go see in a theater. Most of the movies I watch are on TCM in hotel rooms while I practice. [I’m a] big fan of Audie Murphy in 1959’s No Name On The Bullet.” Music is always on his mind though. “I’ve got some song ideas kicking around in my brain that I need to work out before they disappear back into the ether. After that I’ll turn on my metronome for a few hours. This evening I’m going to a photo exhibit opening for the legendary music photographer, Tracy Anne Hart. That’s always inspiring and humbling. I’m recording an EP in New Orleans with Anders Osborne at the end of this month and I’m very excited about it. Anders is an amazing human being, a fantastic guitar player and a very natural songwriter. He’s really opened my ears up a lot in the years that I’ve known him. I hope I can learn as much as possible from him about all three, while still staying focused on recording performances!”

Jam on.

Check out Eric with Gary Clark, Jr. below: