Blues in Beijing: How I Moved to China and Formed a Blues Band
By Alan Paul, Guitar World correspondent and former staff editor.
When I moved to Beijing, China, in the summer of 2005, I did not know what exactly I would be doing. I know what I did not think I would be doing: fronting a great blues band. But that’s exactly what happened.
It all began when I bought a new Epiphone 335 while visiting the U.S. over the summer after my first year in Beijing. I bought it with the express purpose of playing a lot more music, and it did the trick, but not at all in the way I intended. The headstock snapped off in transit back to Beijing. Distraught, I let it lay in the case for a month before I started seeking a repairman. Someone told me that Woodie Wu, a young Chinese guitarist who had just returned from three years in Australia and was now running a new repair business, could help me out.
Woodie fixed the guitar, but that was only the start of what he gave me. The first thing I noticed when we met was that he had a huge tattoo of Stevie Ray Vaughan on his arm. I found that rather remarkable and we began talking about our shared loved of blues. He wanted to hear all about my 15 years at Guitar World and my experiences interviewing the likes of Albert King and Gregg Allman. I wanted him to introduce me to the Beijing music world.
He invited me to jam with his band, Sand. When I showed up, he was wailing away on a lap steel, absolutely slaying me; slide guitar has always touched a spot deep in my soul. To my pleasant surprise, he also enjoyed my playing and singing and was receptive to playing together. We worked out some numbers, enough to host an open mic, and when we needed a name, the choice seemed obvious: Woodie Alan. When no one else showed up to play, we jammed all night and it went over well enough to keep pushing forward.
Alan Paul (center) onstage with Woodie Alan
Within a few months we had a real band, rounded out by American saxophonist Dave Loevinger and a fantastic Chinese rhythm section of Lu Wei (drums) and Zhang Yong (bass). Within a year, we were named Band of the Year in a magazine readers poll, were touring China and recording our debut CD, Beijing Blues, which has been praised by Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Charlie Musselwhite, Joe Bonamassa and others. It’s been a long, strange, unexpected and deeply fulfilling trip, and it’s a tale I am not done telling. I am currently writing a book about my experiences with the band called Big in China, which will be released by Harper Collins in January 2011.
I was recently honored to have the opportunity tell my story on public radio’s The Story. You can hear it here.
To hear some music, see videos or just learn more about the band, please visit woodiealan.com.