Ben Hemming had reached a crossroads in his life, and felt a need to take some time to sort things out. The Englishman’s growing appreciation of American blues helped him chart a course across the Atlantic to embark on a true pilgrimage, to Memphis, New Orleans and other places important to the blues. Along the way he picked up an old guitar in a pawn shop and continued “playing his way” across the heart of blues territory.
One night, while wearily taking in Broadway in Nashville, he had an epiphany. A crowd had gathered to listen to an old man playing a battered one-string guitar, made from nothing more than a broom handle and a box, while also playing drums with his feet. The unadorned honesty of the performance touched Ben in a way he had never felt before, and helped him realize that blues was the key to his own search for personal musical “voice.”
“I wrote a lot of songs on that trip,” he recalls, “and then I came back to the UK and self-recorded my first album, which really kind of propelled things along from there…I decided to just get out there and do it…It’s funny how you can have an experience that gives you a bit more of a perspective.”
That fresh perspective helped Ben focus in on the blues, after initially leaning toward indie rock. “I started to look back…Whenever you look back to the roots of rock it leads you to the blues. All roads lead to blues, I think, really, when it comes to modern music.”
This May, Ben has put out his fifth album, Marked Man. Although coming from a more Blues Rock direction than his other endeavors, it follows a pattern of dark and cathartic songwriting he established previously. As implied in the title, the album is about being an outsider or outcast from society destined to live outside social norms. “I’ve never really felt part of a ‘scene’ with my music, despite its ‘Nu-Blues’ label,” Ben says. “I also strive to produce music that is individual and stands apart from the crowd. That’s really been part of who I am, working hard to create something different and original, that hopefully connects in a visceral way with my audience. And that’s something I wanted to continue doing…”