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'I found a home where you could make a living without being a star'

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'I found a home where you could make a living without being a star'
The musician discovered a budding folk scene in Asturias. Photo: www.leewolfe.org
10:25 CEST+02:00
In this week's instalment of My Spanish Career, The Local talks to Michael Lee Wolfe, a guitarist born and bred in Pennsylvania, before moving to Oviedo where he has made a name for himself playing Asturian folk music.

From Pittsburgh to Asturias, how did you end up playing music here?

I had an extensive collection of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass LPs at the age of four. And I listened to them all the time. They had, I felt, a great groove. My mother would find me curled up sleeping between the sofa and the speakers, which she had on the floor.  

At the age of 9 my days of setting up drum kits with various boxes, trays and asundry hittable things came to an end when mum said "no drums in my house". And she gave me a guitar. I had a killer teacher who was 17 at the time and played a mean James Taylor, Neil Young, Rolling Stones - I picked that stuff up right away and haven´t really looked back since.  

Eleven years later I finished up at the University of Michigan and headed to Spain to visit my best guitar playing buddy, who was fluent in spanish from a very early age. The rest, as they say, is history.

How was the reaction to an American playing Asturian music and has Spain been good for your music career?

Spain has been in many ways a very lucky stop in life for me. For about 25 years Spain was perhaps the best place internationally to play for any musician. There was a lot of money being spent and very little pressure to sell tickets if you were lucky enough to get gigs. So I found a home where you could make a living without being a star.

And I found a budding folk scene in Asturias. In this time I have worked extensively both as promoter and player. I think my work as an Asturian folk artist and producer has been by and large, well accepted. Part of the artistic success is that, modestly, I think I´ve done a good job of learning and respecting key elements of Asturian traditional music. The idea is to be as respectful and fluid as possible when combining one´s own ideas with deep ingrained traditions, especially the traditions of others!  

As for the flipside, it is very difficult for any Asturian artist to be heard or seen in Asturias. This means that while we work in the cultural field, the general public remains largely in the dark as far as the product we are putting out. And at the end of the day, you need to find your audience if you want to work in show business. Even in a place as beautiful and far away as Asturias.

Tell us about your latest project?

The Pink Rangers is my american roots project and we just released an album entitled "The last day I got laid". I work with three very talented ladies – Silvia Fernández, Gema Fernández and Puri Penin. It´s like Peter Paul and Mary meets Lucinda Williams. We have great vocal arrangements and we rock! Hopefully you will see us on tour and in festivals around Spain.

I think I have done around 25 cds now. Hard to say since the cd is really no longer a valid platform. More than half of my discography is of Asturian music but I've done zydeco with the great Maraya Zydeco as well as bluegrass with people like Antonio Serrano and Angel Ruiz (see Asturies Bluegrass Sessions). Then there are the cds from my group the Asturiana Mining Company, my work with Anabel Santiago (who did a fine job singing Johnny Cash in the Asturian language) and also in there is a lovely jazz recording – sung in the Asturian language - with the great Jacobo de Miguel and the equally great Mapi Quintana.

How would you describe Oviedo to an outsider and do you ever get homesick?

Oviedo is a handsome town and the people are generally warm and open in my opinion. Easy to see how Woody Allen fell for the place. And Asturias is a gorgeous region with what feels like an infinite stretch of spectacular beaches and mountains. But yes, I do get homesick. Music is a career that promises more downs than ups and when you´re a long way from your own roots it can give you the blues sometimes.

For more information about Michael Lee Wolfe visit his website.

Interview by Samantha Chappell

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