I was asked by a listener how I choose the music I play on Blues And Roots Connections. I do a new programme every two weeks and the average number of tracks is about 12 per show, although I’m no stranger to playing tracks much longer than a lot of terrestrial radio shows would consider. The best answer I could think of is that therefore all the records have to fight for their place.
Behind each show are countless hours of listening to records and going to see bands at gigs and I'm fortunate enough to be sent many new releases by record labels and artists, together with hundreds of download links or emails with MP3 files. Some of these are easy to weed out, particularly the hoard of untagged MP3 files that have no artist name, album name, or any info sheet about the artist or their music; never mind the quality of some of the audio. This is basic stuff and if you hope to engage the interest of presenters who are sent the amount of material that I am, you should learn this basic stuff that can all be done for free – and presumably when it was recorded it sounded better than a low bit-rate MP3. Similarly with your CD it's easy to enter the details in iTunes and upload all the album information to the Gracenote database, so that when a presenter loads your file or CD all this information pops up. There are plenty of presenters who will just discard all unlabelled or untagged music as there is not time to do your housekeeping for you - we will never know just how amazing your album was!
I never play a track or artist if I don't really like the music. You'd think that was obvious, but it can be tempting to play a track from a new album, especially if they are being featured by other presenters; but the key to me is that I must love the music and I hope that is something that comes across on air. I also play a wide range of material as the programme is about blues and its connections with other genres and artists. Sometimes a programme will have a thematic link, sometimes linking artists, and others are based on getting in as much great new music as I can. I always enjoy the programmes where I can follow a trail - whether it's about the music of a city such as New Orleans, or the musical family tree of, say, The Allman Brothers Band; or reading a comment on FaceBook that ‘the organ is not a blues instrument’ – tell that to Deacon Jones, who played organ for John Lee Hooker and Freddie King for so many years: this lead to an entire programme showing just how full of blues and soul the Hammond B3 can be.
All too often my plans can be thrown aside by events; sadly the death of an important (to me) artist can derail all the plans made leading up to the show. I have done a few obituary programmes recently; always a little sad, but it's also an opportunity to dig deeper into their history and catalogue. My recent programme featuring the late Walter Becker drew a big response from listeners. Steely Dan are not a core blues act - despite being booked for the London BluesFest this coming November - but I hoped that people would feel the same affinity for their music that I do, and by the number of comments and emails I received that did seem to be the case. A couple of years ago when B.B. King died, it was known that he was not going to be with us for much longer and I had an idea of what music I might play in his memory, but was unable to record the show in advance as I had no idea how I would feel - my show is not scripted and the words just come out, hopefully in a coherent and heartfelt manner.
Unforeseen events, with the planned show being scrapped, inevitably lead to a backlog of new releases to catch up with, so my next programme is now almost building itself - with lots of new records, and artists about to tour the U.K. And I think that's the advantage of radio over a Spotify or Apple Music playlist: no automation, no algorithm, but an hour of music curated with care and heart and hoping to make a connection.