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Interview with Little Mike Markowitz

MikeMike Markowitz, known as Little Mike, is the leader of the New York City Blues band, ‘Little Mike and the Tornadoes.’

On Saturday, September 29th the band will be playing and the second annual ‘Blues a Sul’ with the Associação de Blues do Algarve at the Club Farense in Faro, 30 Rua de Santo Antonio, at 22.00.

As a singer, songwriter, harmonica player and piano player, Mike has led the band for more 40 years and has backed up some of the greatest names in the Blues, from Pinetop Perkins, to Buddy Guy and Bo Diddley.

Q.  How does a young man from New York, from the borough of Queens fall in love with the Blues? Especially when the city is more associated with Jazz than Blues?

While this city may be better known for Jazz, all the blues artists used to tour through Manhattan. I’ve always been a big fan of Chicago Blues and I became friends with Muddy Waters’ bands when they came to NYC. That’s how I met Pinetop Perkins. My mother used to make a big dish of baked Ziti or lasagna and I would take it down to the band.

Q.  Even though you play piano, how did the harmonica catch your attention? Who are your main influences?

Harp caught my attention from hearing Paul Butterfield. He was one of my influences. But I’d have to say one of my biggest influences is James Cotton. Cotton later became a close friend of mine and we even recorded an album together for Blind Pig records. The piano came later.

Q. When you first formed Little Mike and the Tornadoes in 1978, did you ever dream that you would be playing with Blues legends such as Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Big Mama Thorton and the list goes on?

No I did not but one thing led to another and it happened quickly. We started backing some of these legends and word got out that we had the sound and they trusted us.

Q.  Did you form any lasting relationships with any of these legends? What did you learn from when and what advice did they give you?

Pine (Pinetop Perkins, Muddy Waters’ long-time piano player) was almost like a father to me. He spent many nights at my house in New York and me in his house in Chicago. If one thing Pinetop taught me, it was patience!!

Q.  You’ve been playing the Blues for many years now, since you were a teenager. How has the way you write your music changed over the years both musically and lyric-wise?

I write about how I feel now. Listen to the words off of my Forgive Me release, You Don’t Love Me. It’s all about how I’m feeling at the time and our interests change as we get older.

Q.  Out of curiosity, I know that you once played with Stevie Ray Vaughan. That must have been interesting. How did that come about?

We were playing a show with Hubert Sumlin (legendary guitarist from the Howling Wolf Band) at The Lone Star in NYC and Stevie came in and got on stage at Hubert’s request. These kinds of things used to happen all the time. The big name rock bands would finish their show and then come down to pay tribute to those who really created this music.

Q.   How long have you been coming to Portugal to play?

I first came and played the BBBF Blues Festival outside Lisbon in Baixa about 6 or 7 years ago. Troy Nahumko, a long time guitarist of mine now lives nearby in Extremadura, Spain, I tour with him. It’s great because he knows my sound.

Q.   Speaking of your latest recordings, the album that you did with Zora Young (Friday Night, 2015) is really great. You then released ‘How Long’ in 2016. What can you tell us about your latest recordings?

How Long is the latest but I still make them. The record business has changed a lot and now making records isn’t like it used to be. Less people buy CDs nowadays and that has changed the way I record.

Q.   Lastly, I know that you have released in Europe an acoustic album called ‘Amigos in Spain’. How did that come about and where can it be found? 

One time when we were touring in Spain, Troy and I were doing some acoustic shows and they were turning out really good. So we just went into the studio a few nights after the shows and let the tape roll and this is what we go. It’s not released in the US yet but Troy has some and we’ll be selling them at the show.

Q.  What are you hoping to see and try here in Portugal?

Growing up in Queens, there are a lot of Portuguese there and I’ve been eating Portuguese food my whole life. It’s great to eat it here. I also hope to see my friends from the BBF Dulio and Rui and of course the local Blues DJ, Hernani Nascimento.

© Rafael González Martínez de Tejada

Little Mike and the Tornadoes



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