Born in the Lowlands, Hans Theessink Sings about the Dark Muddy
The blues are an inherently American music. Underappreciated by the larger listening audience here at home, the style didn’t truly flourish in the American mainstream until the British distilled it in the early to mid ’60s, basically reinventing it for a youthful rock audience that was transfixed by a changing cultural atmosphere. It took bands like the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Yardbirds, and Cream, among others, to foster appreciation among folks in the States for a style of music that was essentially our own.
Now, some 50 years after this revolutionary reinvention began, it’s still somewhat shocking to find musicians without any direct connection to the blues whatsoever retracing a style so alien to their upbringing, and doing so with such assurance and savvy. Take singer/guitarist Hans Theessink for example.
Born in Holland 67 years ago, Theessink eschews his European roots in favor of those spawned by the Mississippi Delta. His fascination with the blues began in the ’60s, naturally enough, and led to a career that’s spawned 20 albums over the course of a 45-year career.
Those masters of mirth, the Bonzo Dog Band, once posed the question, “Can blue men sing the whites?,” a pointed reference to whether those of European descent can truly lay claim to any music that seems so decidedly outside their realm of experience. And certainly Theesink – currently a resident of Vienna, Austria – might have qualified as one of the objects of their sarcasm. Yet, despite this seeming incongruity, Theessink’s credence is anything but suspect.
The late Bo Diddley commended him for his fret work. His 2012 album Delta Time included a guest appearance from Ry Cooder. America’s preeminent blues publication Blues Revue remarked that “Hans Theessink is an international blues treasure. He is one of the world’s pre-eminent country pickers and his warm baritone expresses blues.” Likewise, he’s no stranger to these shores, having made appearances at the Chicago Blues Festival, the Kerrville Folk Festival, the Toronto Soul & Blues Festival, the Kansas City Blues & Jazz Festival, the St. Louis Blues & Heritage Festival, and the Ultimate Rhythm and Blues Cruise, among many other blues events.
Theessink’s most recent efforts have seen him partnering with Terry Evans, a native of Vicksburg, MS, whose own blues background includes stints with John Lee Hooker, Pops Staples, Eric Clapton, and John Fogerty. The two have put out three albums in tandem. Their latest, True & Blue, finds them in a stripped-down live setting – two guitars, two voices. They reconnect with both their originals and well-etched standards, including those by Robert Johnson, Huddie Ledbetter, Chuck Berry, and J.B. Lenoir. In truth, the pair doesn’t expand any boundaries, and their blues ramblings effectively emulate the traditional template of the Mississippi Delta. It’s rather remarkable how well their voices blend, so much so that it’s practically impossible to tell the Old World auteur from the native son of the American heartland. Like brothers from different mothers, they’re bound by the blues but untethered from any geographical divide.