18WT 003: Join in the unique sounds of two brothers reminiscing as Patrick interviews his “Dear Old Brother” Scott, Vocalist and Cigar Box guitarist from Agape Blues Company a Gospel Blues Band in Upstate N.Y. They discuss Scotts’ journey to the badlands of South Dakota where he went yet again to The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally where it was a balmy 68 degrees in August. From there he took off to Las Vegas, just a floor above Hell and a mere 108 degrees. His last stop this side of the Mississippi brought him to the studio right here two floors south of Hell in Beautiful 112 degrees and rising Phoenix, Arizona. His days spent here taught him what hot truly means.
In studio (air-conditioned, much to his delight) the two brothers talked about how his music began. He was in church playing and wanted to minister to those outside the walls with his music. So, he went back to his roots of Blues music, his first Blues band was Deep Blue Shag but quickly renamed to Deep Blue Storm after much debate among the members. At the time one suggestion was Agape Blues Company (which means God’s Love), however it was voted out. When Scott decided to reach outside the church with his music, he reached out to the player in his old band that came up with the name Agape Blues for his blessings to use the name.
When Scott is writing new music, it starts with a snippet of an idea and grows from there. He has even had to pull over on the side of the road while driving to write down an idea for fear of losing it. He belonged to a song writing club for a while and the assignments given were just a few words. The words had to be in the song and that was it. The album “One Way” has several of those songs on it. The song “Blues in Heaven” has the phrase “If morning never comes” that was the assignment. The song used right here in our Podcast is called “One Sinners’ Prayer”, Scott talks about how that is about his Salvation.
When asked what his favorite song to play off the album is, his reply was “My Roots”, this is one where he wrote down on a road trip on the side of the road. It is done in a “Muddy Waters” Style. This is also done on his two-string Cigar-Box that he made and named “The Jesus Freak”. He said it gets its’ own introduction on stage and is very unique to play. He has many Traditional hymns on the album that are done in a Blues style that are called “Barrel House Hymns”.
The Heller Brothers continue the interview talking about inspirations, coffee, beer and even boilermakers to start it off. This part goes more into cigar box guitars that Scott has made. The first one was with their father. There were two smoked salmon boxes and that is where he began. Then his church was undergoing renovations, Scott asked the man in charge of construction, “Gunny” for a piece of wood. After some negotiations and a promise of one of the two new guitars a deal was made and away he went with a large piece of wood. The first one he made the neck too long on and had to cut it down to even be able to string it. It is still about 2 ½” longer than a normal cigar box guitar and therefore it brings out a deeper sound. It is known as a baritone guitar.
The guitar sat for over a year because he didn’t know how to play it. He went to a cigar box festival in York, PA to get opinions on it. There he got bit by the culture and the music. He went home and prayed on it; some of the songs he made on it are “When I get to Heaven”, “He Loves You”, “One Step Closer”, & “Eyes of Faith”. All different styles from punk to basic blues.
The brothers discussed how he played guitar when he was younger and then quit and came full circle to play again. Scott didn’t like what his then teenage son Shawn was listening to and took him to the music store and introduced him to other types of music. Shawn went on to become an accomplished bass guitarist himself. It got Scott thinking and upon meeting James Brown III, the hardest working man in showbiz, (and a metal head drummer who can put a beat to anything); they began playing together. Later on, they were joined by an accomplished guitarist George. They finally formed Deep Blue Shag and his music career was off.
He had a moment of nervousness his first time playing “The Egg” in Albany NY. But that is truly about it, he credits his teaching and standing in front of a class every day to the lack of nerves. When he hands out c.d.’s he likes to tell people “we don’t suck”, “we’re the top of the bottom” and the “cream of the crap”.
Patrick & Scott talk about his song "Jesus Is My Rock" or in Spanish “Jesus es mi Roca”; this is his English/Spanish song. His first attempt to translate was using google translate and it failed in the sound test when he played it for Sonia, a Spanish speaking friend from his job. She then helped him fix the translation so that it said what he was looking for.
The entertainment continues as Patrick and his brother Scott talk about Agape Blues Company and more! Here we find out that most people don’t even realize the talent that lies beneath the surface of Scott Heller. His music is a ministry but a performance for all to enjoy. Kind of like ZZ Top in robes! He looks at it as a different way to bring the message and play in places that most “traditional or normal” bands don’t play. Like the Albany N.Y. City Mission where the band plays at the chapel once a month during services for the homeless and downtrodden. They also play at senior centers like in Troy and Schenectady N.Y.; the latter is where Patrick & Scotts’ parents live.
The Agape Blues Company started with playing about an hour of just gospel blues. Then one day a guy asked if they knew “Sweet Caroline” (by Neil Diamond). Scott promised that they would learn the chords for the next month. The following month they played it as well as “Stand by Me” (by Ben E. King). He also played Stand by Me at Sturgis in 2017 and loved the experience.
Now they do about one-half hour of gospel blues and one-half hour of classics like Elvis, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash and Otis Redding. They play the songs people know and can sing along with. Scott and his Bass player Mike have dueling “Elvis” competitions where they alternate songs. No hips swinging though, don’t want to break a hip! They limit their dancing to a little two-step or shuffle on stage now and then.
Scott goes on to mention how one of his guitars will have to be repaired once he gets back home and how he will need a bit of rest and relaxation. He loved seeing the Badlands of South Dakota and the Grand Canyon. Was amazed at Eagle Point where Evel Knievel’s son jumped the Canyon in 1999. After leaving the Grand Canyon, Scott and family stopped here in Phoenix on their way back east for another get together in Pennsylvania, then home. Maybe California will make it on his next trip!
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The music used in the show is by the Agape Blues Company whose music includes many original songs, Christian hymns and contemporary worship songs played in a blues style, as well as traditional blues music with Christian lyrics. They use both homemade and traditional instruments in creating our unique sound. You can find info about the group here.