Getting To Know: Sol Roots

Sol Roots

Ask me about artists who exude love, and I will always bring up renowned DC-area guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Sol Roots.  

His band, Sol Roots Band, perform "a mix of raw funk, deep blues, greasy soul, energetic rock, and hypnotic rhythms." They have shared the stage with groups such as Jon ClearySouliveDumpstaphunkBooker T. JonesEric Lindell, Cory Henry, and Shemekia Copeland to name a few. 

Like the sound of his name, he plays with deep, deep soul. When playing solo, you feel him emote gratefulness and intensity into this positively magnetic vibe. Add his immense mastery of his art, and then go on to add his knack of collaboration with other musicians who share that same passion and talent, it takes you over the moon. 

We had a chance to catch up with Sol about his story, how he came to love music, how the landscape of today's challenging world has affected his music, and what he has coming up next.  


Hi Sol, thank you so much for connecting with me! Tell me how you got into music. 

Hi Nina, thanks so much for chatting! 

So my mom and dad, both played music, and were visual artists too. They divorced when me and brother were little, we definitely were influenced by both our parents creatively for sure, as well as my step-father who is a great musician also.

My mom is more into music as an artistic outlet, I remember her playing awesome original tunes on the piano when we were little. My dad was a great songwriter, guitarist, pianist, visual artist, philosopher, and all around creative inspiration. My brother is also a fantastic musician, songwriter and teacher.

My dad was friends with Tim Duffy, the founder of Music Maker Relief Foundation which is a non-profit that helps support and give back to the pioneers of American music. Before Music Maker began, my dad and Tim used to gig around North Carolina, and then began to work with alot of local blues, soul, and roots musicians. Blues legend Guitar Gabriel, Tim Duffy, and my dad went on Music Maker's first European tour.

Just about all of the Music Maker artists I would later record, produce, perform with, and/or travel around the world with. I grew up with the Music Maker artists being my musical aunts/ uncles/ grandparents/ brothers/ sisters/ mentors and friends.

So you truly did grow up with a musical family that seemed to blossom as you did. I love that. And what about music lessons and such, what did you play as a kid?

I did piano lessons when I was little for a couple of years, guitar lessons for a year, continued self education on guitar, bass, drums, and keys. Then I went to school for recording engineering and started recorded all these blues, soul, funk, roots heroes. They heard me playing some music and pulled me in as a backup studio musician and then touring on the road, so I soaked up all knowledge I could from all the Music Maker artists, many of whom had been back-up artists for people like BB King, James Brown, Junior Wells, Bobby Womack, and Percy Sledge. Every chance I get, I try to point back to where I learned from, my musical family and blood family as well. One love.

That is tremendous. It sounds like your experience from being around the Music Maker scene was your true education. What a momumental gift. I can only imagine the stories you heard! 

I saw you had some music coming out, recently? Tell me about that. 

Yes, we just released a live recording, “Live at The Hamilton”, that was recorded in DC just before the global pandemic shut down touring. The recording features master New Orleans drummer Eddie Christmas (of Jon Cleary, New Orleans Suspects, Eric Lindell), harmonica legend Phil Wiggins, and bass maestro Andreas Holmstrom. It’s an intersection of funk, soul, blues, and rock. All the profits from this recording will be split between the musicians, as all of us are full-time musicians. It’s a crazy world, we are all rollin’ the punches. Please pick up a copy if you have the means.

I absolutely will! So, you’ve been playing in this city for a long time. Talk to me about the DMV music scene. What does it mean to you?

Sol Roots performs at The Hamilton in Washington, DC
Sol Roots performs at The Hamilton in Washington, DC

I’m really thankful to be a part of the DMV music scene. It’s a beautiful blend of kickass talent in every single genre. Just about all the full time musicians I know are really supportive, extremely talented, determined and creative. This world has been really hard to navigate, and I really love and respect the musicians and the local venues that have been staying at it.  I have to give special thanks to all the music fans who have donated to the live stream performances, and to organizations like The Hamilton, The DC Legendary Musicians, DC After Dark, and Music Maker Relief Foundation.

How have recent events like the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement affected our scene, and what do you think the scene will be like in the future?

I think some people are really eager to get back to experience live music, and some are really concerned about health issues, and across the world there are many people whose eyes are being opened for the first time to the extent of police brutality and racism that’s so apparent to others.  

From touring and traveling all over the world, I believe there are way more people that have compassion for others, and who have understanding of how to work together, than the destructive groups of people. Regardless of whatever the media is blasting in our face, and regardless of who is trying to "lead" — the people who stand for togetherness, vastly outnumber the ones who hate, and who want to destroy. There's some aspects out there who want to divide people up, create fear, and encourage battles. Because if people are fighting each other, they are more easily controlled and directed. There's many things to be justly angry about, and many things to join together to change, urgently right now, and out of love of humanity, not out of hate. Now's the time to join together. And we've seen many examples of that in the recent protests, all across the world.

Sol Roots performs at The Hamilton in Washington, DC

 I'm really grateful for all my teachers and influences, and grateful for all my family and musical family, of all cultures and walks of life. Good can happen when people join together. It's about a way of life. Not just now, not just on social media posts, not just in the next few weeks or months, but for the rest of life. So the DMV music scene in 2021 and the future, I want to envision as being incredibly strong, inclusive, supportive, but this will take everyone working together. I see that potential in almost every musician I work with, so I know it’s a possibility. It’s always a battle. Do you want to focus on destroying, or building something better? The choice is up to all of us. 

Sol Roots performs at The Hamilton in Washington, DC

Those are powerful words right there. Thank you for sharing. Tell me a little more about you, what makes you you. Can you talk to me about three books or movies, or anything really, that influenced you or impacted the way you think about things?

That’s a good question, and ok, I won’t do any of these books justice but here goes. 

One is “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” which I think everyone in the US should read. His life story is about as deep as they come. I remember the first time I read it, and he is calling all white people “devils” and how it made me feel. And if you put yourself in his shoes, every bad thing that happened to him in his early life was at the hand of white people. You can totally understand how anyone could feel the same, if they were in that circumstance. And over the years to see his life and growth, especially going to Mecca and seeing people of all ethnic backgrounds and colors coming together and experiencing in person what could be possible, it makes his transformation to see the world in a larger perspective all the more powerful. There are many people that are either really drawn to, or repelled by, some of his quotes like “by any means necessary”, and leave out some of his other quotes like “how can anyone be against love?” 

Another is “The Music Lesson” by Victor Wooten which I think all musicians could really get something from. It’s fictional story about a bass player learning some lessons from teachers, not just musically but in life, and outlines really how all everything is connected, how we do everything translates to our music and vice versa, and how trying to be a better person is more important than any notes or rhythms you might attempt. 

A third one would be “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. It’s a book about the Vietnam war, and my dad was a Vietnam veteran so the book probably impacts me more so because of that. The book is laid out as a fiction, but the author says parts may be true, and that sometimes it takes telling a fictional story to really convey the heart of real truth. I think music and songs can be like that, conveying deeper truths sometimes hidden in stories.


Absolutely. And I really appreciate all that you just said. Tell me a little more about what moves you...are there certain artists who have had a great impact on you?

The top artists that have influenced me are all artists that I’ve worked with, toured around the world or regionally with, hung with consistently, talked with deeply, they have impacted me not just musically, but also personally and spiritually and have inspired me too much to really clearly express. 

One is Cool John Ferguson, originally from Beaufort, South Carolina, a guitarist who Taj Mahal calls “one of the five greatest guitar players in the world,” and is in the ranks of Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, and Django Reinhart.  He plays left handed on a regular strung guitar and we’ve toured together for a greater part of my life as a part of Music Maker in places like Australia, Europe, Caribbean and around the US. I played with Cool John just about every weekend for a few years at a juke joint called All Peoples Grill around Durham. 

Another artist is saxophonist, vocalist, and songwriter Tim Smith, based in North Carolina. He’s one of the greatest male vocalists and saxophonists I’ve ever heard. He’s worked with acts like Squirrel Nut Zippers, Hobex, Orquesta Gardel, The Beast and many more. Not only is he an awesome musician, but he is a really powerful songwriter, really pushing to create positive lyrics, and help bring people together. I feel really thankful that my list of influential artists seriously overflows. 

If I have to choose only a third, I would list Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, based from Atlanta. “Mama” Watkins has passed on, and I just think about all the shows we pulled off together, and her extremely strong spirit and personality. She was a hell of a performer and was always serious about bringing the absolute best to the stage. Recently, She Shreds Magazine recognized 100 Historical Black Women Guitarists and Bassists. Beverly is right there in the list, as well as quite a few more of deeply personal influential artists in my life. It’s amazing how everything connects. Everyone has to keep the torch alive, and pass it on.


I’m impressed you were able to keep that list to three, but to what you said at the start, it sounds like everyone you collaborate with musically has moved you and impacted your life in some profound way, which is beautiful.

So about playing, what was the last show you played before the quarantine and what have you been doing for shows since March?

The last show I played before the quarantine was at the legendary JV’s in Falls Church with the talented guitarist and vocalist Linwood Taylor, Steve Wolf, and others on the last day that music was allowed in Northern Virginia. A couple weeks ago, my trio just played the first live show since quarantine, again at JV’s, helping open up the live music scene again. I’ve done a few live stream performances for The Hamilton and Events DC, as solo performance and band performance. I’m very thankful to help support the local DC area venues, and very thankful for the donations that came in from the live stream performances, and at the live trio show last week.

And what show — either yours or someone else's — were you most looking forward to going to before it had to be cancelled?

We had quite a few great shows that had to cancel, including a few Maryland, Virginia, and Atlanta festivals, outdoor city concerts, and even private engagements. We were really excited to play the Central Virginia Blues Society Festival a couple weeks ago but that was also cancelled. We’re thankful for all the awesome venues and clients that we work with. The main thing is that most people are safe and healthy, but we are really bummed about some heavy cancellations.


Absolutely, making sure people are safe is what it’s all about right now, even though I know this is so hard on so many parts of the music and other industries. So last question, where would you recommend someone eat or do takeout in the DMV so we can help support them during the pandemic?  

Sol Roots performs at The Hamilton in Washington, DC

Jo Jo Bar on U Street, where we have had a weekly musical residence for about nine years, has incredible food. The Hamilton also has wonderful food. Both of those spots in DC do take-out. The Hamilton is also doing a great thing with FoodItForwardDC.com and helping provide for families impacted by COVID-19 pandemic.

Fantastic! And speaking of JoJo Bar, you have your residency there. When will that be happening again? 

We will start our Sunday night residency in DC, hopefully, again in August at JoJo Bar. We also have some weekend outdoor shows coming up the last two weekends of July in Maryland and Virginia. And look out for a new release single being featured in the upcoming summer issue of Big City Blues Magazine.

Sol Roots performs at The Hamilton in Washington, DC

I will most definitely check that out. Any new release from you is something to get excited about!

Sol, I want to thank you again for connecting with me. I learned so much more about what moves you and how that translates into your music. It has been eye-opening and lovely to get to know you better.

Thank you so much, Nina, I really appreciate it. And love to everybody out there and to the DC Music Review family.


Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Additional

Resources


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About the author
Nina Goodman

Nina Goodman

Nina Goodman is a music lover, dancer, artist, keyboardist, and an avid ukulele player. You may even see her up on stage performing with local DC bands. Above all, Nina is a fierce supporter of the Washington DC local music scene. Nina's talents are mostly behind the scenes where she maintains and curates our event calendar and conducts interviews with local artists. If there is music playing in the DMV, you can expect to see her attending or at least making sure that our audience knows about it.