Reason Plays the Blues

Jim Pugh 1

Keyboard player and Reason user Jim Pugh has been a member of the Robert Cray Band since 1989. In a varied career that includes performing on Grammy winning, platinum and gold CDs, Jim has recorded with numerous artists including Etta James, Van Morrison and BB King. He has also performed widely on national TV and produced over a dozen CDs for Robert Cray, Tower of Power and The Gospel Hummingbirds. In addition to having several movie and TV soundtrack credits to his name, Jim's songs have been performed by various artists including Robert Cray and Tower of Power. Living Blues Magazine voted "The One in the Middle" Song of the Year.

Following the Robert Cray Band's recent US tour with Eric Clapton, Jim talked to Stephanie Sobey-Jones about his on-stage experiences with Reason.

Jim Pugh Interview

When did you first start working with Reason and what attracted you to the program?

I am primarily a Piano/Hammond B-3 organ player. My introduction to Reason happened four years ago doing a recording session with Raphael Saadiq at his studio in LA. At first my interest in Reason was in having a laptop sequencer/soft synth all in one package, but the more time I spent using it as a songwriting tool, the more I became convinced that there were instruments I could use on recording sessions and on stage.

How does the Robert Cray Band typically work on stage?

The Robert Cray Band is a quartet that has done over 1000 performances as a single intact group. On stage nothing is played the same from night to night. Either in terms of set list or in the way the songs are performed. Not unlike a jazz quartet the songs serve as a starting point. There's lots of improvisation.

The new RCB double CD Live From Across The Pond is a bare bones set that was gathered from 7 nights at Royal Albert Hall (London) opening for Eric Clapton. It contains no edits - no fixes. On this CD I use Reason for most of the non-B3 sounds: Wurly-Rhodes- Vox Organ- Xylophone and Strings.

Tell us a bit about your stage hardware and software set up.

My current set up includes the Hammond B-3 and a Roland A90 keyboard, plus a hardware rack with a Kurzweil 2500RS sampler, an Aphex 109EQ, Lexicon MX200 reverb, mixer and other hardware. On an Apple G4 Powerbook I’m running Reason, VStack and other VST plug-ins.

Apart from actual sounds, in what other ways have you found Reason useful in live performance situations?

The ability to instantly change programs as well as volume, pitch and modulation changes within each program and do it all from my Roland A90 was a problem that I solved by using ReWire to Steinberg's VStack. This has allowed me to immediately make the necessary changes.

In short, I have 16 separate instruments in my Reason rack along with 16 separate mixers and 16 separate effects set ups all rewired on 16 MIDI channels to VStack. At that point I can add any additional VST plug-ins (mainly Nomad BlueTube) and everything is then left/right output out of VStack.

Have you encountered any problems using Reason live?

In the beginning there were latency issues. An M-Audio Firewire (rather than USB) audio interface resolved almost all the latency.

People may not immediately associate Reason with the Blues genre, but how do you feel that the program contributes to your performance?

It may be the perception that Reason is best suited to a more Euro Disco type application, however I think the live/real-time uses have worked well in the genres of music that I play. The ability to add age and color with the built in distortion and compression is key in my achieving sounds like a Wurlitzer ep through a Fender super reverb, or warm tape saturation and amp distortion for a Vox continental organ. Sure I can create these sounds using the real pieces, but the ability to create and manipulate these sounds in a laptop affords keyboard players the luxury of being able to carry their own musical environment with them. Stage-studio-hotel room wherever!