Spinning the Blues

Stephen Blanton has been curating Saturday night for regional roots listeners for two decades. Photo by Tim Robison

Stephen Blanton has been curating Saturday night for regional roots listeners for two decades. Photo by Tim Robison

Stephen Blanton is into full immersion, musically speaking. He plays guitar and sings in the Southern-fried funk band Citizen Mojo. He does professional engineering out of his Marion-based recording studio. And he has hosted the blues-infused “Saturday Night House Party” show on WNCW-FM for the past 26 years. Inspired as a teenager by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Grand Funk Railroad’s Mark Farner, Blanton stayed up to listen to late-night radio out of Chicago and Nashville.

“I began to see who those people had been influenced by, and before you know it I’m this die-hard blues guy. I like soul music too — I never saw a lot of difference between the two,” he says. Four years ago, Blanton and bassist Tim Clement started Citizen Mojo with keyboardist Brad Curtioff and drummer Scott Stinson.

How far back do you go with Tim Clement?
Since our early days. We played a little thing at the First Baptist Church in Forest City one Sunday morning. I think we played “Smoke on the Water.” Probably the first time any such sort of music like that was ever played at the First Baptist Church in Forest City. We played off and on through our teens and early 20s. We’d run into each other.

[Jazz recording engineer] Rudy Van Gelder just passed away.
I love that stuff he did for Blue Note, and Verve too. The quality there, I mean those were live performances. Of course the musicianship has a lot to do with how well a recording can turn out, but just a wonderful sensibility about the whole thing. He’s been one of my influences in the production end.

How do you plan your radio shows?
I’ll pull a bunch of music and have an idea about the first song. It’ll be a Hammond organ instrumental, because that’s the way I always start my program. While the first song’s playing I’ll choose what’s next, and it’s one right after another for four hours. I like for it to take on a life of its own. It’s like playing live — if you’re in the improvisational mode you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and that’s part of the beauty of it.

It’s the same zone.
My music making has informed my radio work, and my radio work has informed my music making. It’s been a wonderful symbiosis there. I’m exposed to things I wouldn’t hear otherwise, and you know that feeling when you hear a certain thing for the first time and it blows you away, what a marvelous sensation that is. That inspires me to strive for it myself in some way.

Citizen Mojo performs at The Twisted Pear (184 E Main Street in Forest City) on Friday, October 14, at 7:30pm. 828-447-9599, thetwistedpear.net. The band plays at Barley’s Taproom in Spindale on Friday, November 25, at 7:30pm. 828-288-8388.

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