Musicians are so often inspired by familiar places. Woody Guthrie had Oklahoma, for instance. And where would The Clash be if not London? However, the same isn't really true for Gary, Ind.-born soulman Quinn DeVeaux.
"The South influenced my music the most, even though I've never lived there," says DeVeaux, who has spent the past 12 years in Oakland, Calif. "I mean everything I listen to, other than Chess, is from the South — Stax and everything from Memphis, New Orleans, and Nashville."
DeVeaux's sound is indeed all over the Deep South. Fats Domino's New Orleans is evident throughout 2013's Originals, recorded by Deveaux and his band, the Blue Beat Revue. It's an album that's also influenced by ragtime, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, and most certainly the Memphis soul of Stax Records. That's all embodied in the album's standout track "Left This Town," a song that really combines 1930s swing, piano, and brass with 1950s rhythm. But Deveaux doesn't refer to any place in the South when he sings, "All my cares are gone, gone, gone/ Since I left this town/ And all my days are twice as long/ Since I left this town."
"That's about Los Angeles," DeVeaux laughs. "Yeah, I lived there for about nine months, and it was terrible. It's a really impersonal place to be. No one talks to anyone, everything is spread out, you can't go anywhere. It takes a certain kind of person to take it. There's no city like it; it's its own thing. I have friends in Los Angeles, and I get it now, but at the time it made no sense."
Also from last year, Late Night Drives has the kind of blues that touches back down in Memphis, this time via Sun Records. With harmonica, slide guitar, and a little twang, DeVeaux even sounds a little bit country, proving the musician is cool with blending it all to find his own niche.
"They talk about soul being country, gospel, and blues — those are the ingredients of soul basically, soul in its early form," DeVeaux explains. "And it's really gotten me into taking elements of a country tune and colliding it with gospel music and some of the early Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers stuff and Mahalia Jackson and mixing things up to come up with something new.
"There's definitely an old schoolness there," DeVeaux says of his sound, "but it also doesn't sound old. It's like I'm writing new songs that sound like they're written back then, but they're not — and it's not what I'm trying to do. I just love that music, music from the '50s and '60s and '70s and the '40s, and it's kind of what happens. So when I call [my music] 'blue beat,' I feel like I'm sort of searching for something that hasn't happened yet. Because that's when you get an interesting thing, when you blend types of music that hasn't been blended — not in the way that you're doing it. That's when you can come up with a new style, a new way to interpret music."
Though he's all about getting his own thing down, DeVeaux's also known for doing covers that venture away from his usual style. He collaborated with San Fran musician Meklit Hadero in 2010's Meklit and Quinn, an album that tackled such contemporary tunes as Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Electric Feel" from MGMT. DeVeaux also released Under Covers with the Blue Beat Revue in 2011, this time paying homage to old-time heroes with tracks like Fats Domino's "I'm in Love Again" and "Tiger in Your Tank" from DeVeaux's all-time greatest inspiration, Muddy Waters. But the California musician still spends plenty of time coming up with originals, too.
DeVeaux says that creating his sound is a progressive thing. The album he hopes to record in the spring will likely be full of songs he's been composing on the road, walking around Memphis, or hanging out in Nashville. He writes every day, which is why DeVeaux released his last two records at the same time in December.
"I just have a lot of tunes," he says. "And those particular tunes had to happen, although I have been getting better at stemming the flow. There's a certain shelf life with tunes. The sentiment remains for a period of time, so if you're writing about a lover or an ex-girlfriend, there's a shelf life there, so those tunes just all have to happen. I'm getting a little better now at being able to hold on to that, but I'm still anxious for that [next] record. I don't know what this waiting three years to release an album thing is about.
"In three years, people lose interest," DeVeaux continues. "In three years, we're just different people. Three years ago, if you think about yourself, the basics are still the same. But in terms of, like, your sentiments and the emotional happenings, it's very different, you know?"