One on One with…Keeping the Blues Alive award winner Lucky Clark

Lucky Clark
(Photo by Katy Clark)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

SWEDEN — When Louis “Lucky” Clark was teaching art at Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield, a new student arrived in his classroom. At the time, one of his works in progress was hanging — a God’s eye mobile he was making for Pat Benatar’s daughter. The student inquired about it. Clark explained. The student accused him of trying to bluff her because she was new to the school.

The other students chimed in: It was true that their teacher knew Pat Benatar. He even knew Huey Lewis, they said.

A few days later, he produced the taped interview with Huey Lewis. Then, the young student was convinced and wowed that her teacher had sat down face-to-face with some of the top artists of that time.

While living in a rural Maine town, Clark has his finger on the musical pulse of the world. During the past four decades, he has interviewed big names like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Charlie Daniels, and the members of Def Leppard.

After winning the 2018 Keeping the Blues Alive Award, it is Clark’s turn to be interviewed.

BN: Could you please provide a biography that includes your upbringing and your career?

LC: I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and moved to Bridgton at a year old. My mother was from Sweden, Maine, and my dad was from New Haven. We lived on Highland Avenue (now Creamery Street, I believe) and moved to Church Street soon after. I went through the Bridgton School system before there was a Lake Region — way before it became Lake Region. In fact, 2017 was my 50th class reunion. After finishing a post graduate program at the old high school at the end of Depot Street, I went to Gorham State Teachers College for five years and became an art teacher. That led me to Pittsfield, Maine, where I was employed by SAD 53 at Warsaw Junior High School, which later became a middle school. There I met and married my wife, Karole and became a father for the first time, at age 49, to Kathryn. That led to my retirement so I could become a stay-at-home dad for my young daughter. It was then that we moved from Pittsfield to my ancestral home in Sweden that was built by my great, great, great grandfather for one of his sons in 1825.

As far as my career as a music journalist goes, that began at college where I challenged the Gorham campus weekly’s record reviewer about his handling of a particular review. It was very cutesy without much musical substance. He in turn dared me to write for the Portland campus weekly newspaper. When I got my first and only teaching job in Pittsfield, I started writing for the local weekly there, The Valley Times. After a couple years, I started writing for the Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal doing album reviews and the occasional interview/preview of concerts in the state.

I’m still there at those two daily papers doing just interviews every Thursday now.

Stints at the Lewiston Sun Journal and the Bangor Daily News, as well as a monthly entertainment magazine out of Ellsworth, followed. I also wrote for Bennie Green’s Sweet Potato, which became Face magazine out of Portland. I was doing mostly record reviews and my very first phone interview was with Michael Corby of The Babys. The writing I do now is interviews only but it’s the job I love more than any other I’ve ever had. Although making the donuts at Pietree Orchard runs a very close second, I must confess.

BN: On Jan. 19, you received the 2018 Keeping the Blues Alive Award — what were some defining moments of that day?

LC: It was an afternoon. We had lunch at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Memphis. It was a sold-out event. Even my PR person who is on the Blues Foundation board did not get in.

It was a little unnerving to stand in front of 200 people. I told them I had taught school. Teaching school for 26 years and standing in front of 20 students in a classroom didn’t prepare me for this, I said. They laughed, which took the edge off.

A lot of that time period and the day was kind of a blur. While we were eating lunch, Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist, Steve Van Zandt, was there with a group from Europe. He looked down and said, “Congratulations,” and walked away.

A lot of people said, “You deserve this.” That validates what I’ve been doing. That was the biggest part of the award for me. I do it because I love it. I enjoy connecting with people.

For example, after I interviewed Isaac Stern, the violinist, he said, “Did my publicist tell you how I feel about interviews? I hate them.” I said, “I am glad you didn’t tell me that before.” He said, “Thank you” and he told me he enjoyed the interview.

Smaller things like that give me validation. But this award gave it to me on a larger level. Thinking back on it brings back the feelings I had at the time.

BN: What was going through your head while you were interviewing BB King in person?

LC: He was the most gracious, gentle man whom I had interviewed up until that point. What I do is — especially someone of his stature, I let him choose the topic.

He said, “I want to talk about Russia. I went to Russia — it is like Mississippi in the 50s.”

Old women sweeping the streets with straw brooms — that was what he was remembering from his time in Mississippi.

The article was printed over two weeks in the Morning Sentinel. I got a handwritten letter from BB King’s manager, saying it was the best interview and best newspaper review up to that point.

By the time I did that particular interview, I had been doing it for a number of years. There is the bucket list of people you want to interview.

BN: Who is on your bucket list?

LC: The greatest string players of the 20th century. I’ve already done three of them. The one I haven’t done is Itzhak Perlman.

BN: Who are some of the blues musicians you’ve interviewed?

LC: Son Seals, John Mayall, Coco Montoya, Sonny Landreth and Pinetop Perkins.

Five days before I went down to Memphis, I did an interview with Shemekia Copeland, the daughter of Johnny Clyde Copeland. We were doing the interview, and she said, “You are one of the good ones. You don’t ask dumb questions.”

BN: You get to interview musicians for a job — do you ever ask yourself “how did I get here?”

LC: I love my job. I love people. I started out doing album reviews in 1969. The interviews didn’t come along until much later. I always did the albums reviews. I got albums for free if I critiqued them. I couldn’t afford to buy the LPs so it was a great deal.

There are times I planned it, like the BB King interview. Other times, it was spontaneous. Literally, I bumped into Mick Fleetwood, and he got the entire band of Fleetwood Mac to autograph baseball caps. Chance meetings like that happen to me. When I was a Guns ‘N Roses concert, a guy came out of the crowd wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and he gave me a big hug. I was thinking, ‘Who is this person?’ A while back, I was at a Ronnie James Dio show. He knocked me down and made sure I wasn’t near when the pyrotechnics went off. That was the guy who floored me up in Bangor; and he was there with Guns ‘N Roses.

He asked, “Are you still doing that public television thing? Do you think they will like to get signatures from the band?” Their record company sent me four limited edition CD packs — so I could put a hat with each one. That made a lot of money for Channel 10.

BN: Which musician stands out as a turning point in your style of interviewing?

LC: The first live interview I did with Charlie Daniels was most impactful. I left my notebook with all my questions at home. I was in a metal chair sitting across from him when I realized I had left my notebook with all question at home. I said, “I won’t take up anymore of your time.”

He put a ham hock of a hand on my shoulder and said, “That’s fine, son, you are doing fine. I want to talk about patriotism. I got a new song coming out called The South’s Gonna to Do It Again.”

That was the first one I did without questions.

My second one was Joe Elliot with Def Leppard. I spent the day with the band. Def Leppard was playing before Ozzie Osbourne. After two songs with Ozzie, there I was with Joe — who was all of 18. The rest of the band was younger and we went to the Bangor State Fair. The people at the fair had no idea they were on rides with Def Leppard before they made it big. I like getting in on the ground floor with some acts.

BN: So, you were a late bloomer when it comes to parenthood — what are the pros and cons of that?

LC: I am a late bloomer. One of the comments I heard people say is: Having a child at your age is going to make you feel young. I would say, “How does sleep deprivation make a person feel young?”

BN: What does your daughter think of your job?

LC: Because we were taking her to Sesame Street Live and Blues Clues Live — I would make sure I could interview. I interviewed the girl in the Elmo suit.

My daughter has gone to many, many concerts on her own. Nowadays, I go because she likes a group like Panic at the Disco and A Day to Remember. If I can interview them, that’s fine. I don’t mind paying for the ticket and just watching the concert.

One time, I was on the computer looking at the Cumberland Country Civic Center website, I was looking at it. Katy walked up behind me and said, “Dad that is your name. You took all those pictures.”

Tina Turner grimacing at the camera — my camera. They hired me for the 15-year anniversary. They hired me to be a house photographer.

She saw the fact that the photos I took were being used. It said, “We want to thank Lucky Clark.”

BN: How did your family react to learning that you received the Keeping the Blues Alive Award?

LC: My daughter figured out as far the award goes. I couldn’t tell anyone for six to eight weeks. One evening, Katy was looking at me. She said, “Dad what is the matter? You look like you want to say something, but you can’t.” Her mom said, “He can’t say for six to eight weeks.” Katy said, “You got the award!” I said, “You better not tell any of your friends or put it on Facebook.”

BN: What do you tell people when they ask about the award?

LC: My stock answer is: Give me 49 years of doing something and I’ll get it right.

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