J Lee, (seen here second from the left), lead vocalist with J Lee and The Hoodoo Skulls chats with Kevin Cooper about being invited to play a session at Bob Harris’ Under The Apple Tree Studios, being massively influenced by his dad, their debut studio album Black Moon and being the special guest on Shakin’ Stevens forthcoming UK tour.

J Lee (Jason Lee Barratt) is the lead singer with addictive blues rock band, J Lee and The Hoodoo Skulls. Other members of the band are Harun Kotch on lead guitar, Wayne Riches on drums and bassist, Luke Sohl Willaims although Mike Harlett will be joining them as their touring bass player on their forthcoming tour.

Between them they have already played every corner of the globe with international chart success and music used for various advertisement campaigns, commercials and websites. Their debut album Black Moon has a release date of 8th March which follows a successful release of their debut EP.

Whilst preparing for their forthcoming UK tour and the release of their album Black Moon, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Jason how are you?

I’m fine thanks Kevin but more to the point how are you keeping?

Being honest with you, fingers crossed, all is well at the minute thank you. And before we move on, let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No problem at all.

I was looking back at our previous interview and we last spoke prior to the release of Woman back in 2017. Were you happy with the response to the single?

That’s right. That was the very first single that we released and I have to say that the response was really good. The response to whatever we have done in the past has been really good on social media. We really do have a lot of support on there. We did a lot of interviews and radio PR and the single really did get a hell of a lot of radio plays and it was really well received by everyone. Everything at that time was really good.

After the release of the single, did you then feel under added pressure to get the album finished?

(Laughter) you could say that (laughter). After the single was released we went away to finish off the album and I have to say that always takes a lot longer than you first anticipate (laughter). After the album was finished we were then faced with the task of trying to find a good time to release it. Don’t get me wrong you can release anything anytime which will either be seen and make an impression or will simply vanish in the wind and nobody will ever know anything about it. However, when the forthcoming tour dates came up, and as you know we will be opening for Shakin’ Stevens on four of the dates on his Greatest Hits: And More! Tour, we thought that this is most probably one of the best opportunities to release the album.

We could spend four hours on a round trip going up to London and depending upon what night it is, and the promotion that the venue has put into the gig, which is generally not much at all, we could find ourselves playing to anywhere between five and twenty people. I have to say that in my opinion the gig circuit now is simply not what it used to be. Anyone who tells you that ‘you have got to get out there and play and play’ are not actually getting out there and going to gigs. Don’t get me wrong, people are still out there playing, but I think that there is simply far too much going on at home now. There are too many mental stimulations at home and that is why people cannot be bothered to get into the car or getting on a train to go out and see a band that they most probably have never heard of.

Whereas not that long ago you would go out and see a band playing at your local pub, because there was very little else to do in the evenings. It is just what you did. So anyway, rant over (laughter). So these gigs came up supporting Shakin’ Stevens and I thought ‘we have got four gigs here. By the time that we have done the run we could well have performed in front of between ten and twelve thousand people’. We would have to make a hell of a lot of trips up to London in order to reach those numbers. So it really does feel like the right time for us to release the album. Having those four dates behind it now was as good a time as any. The album was ready, it was sitting there on the shelf and who knows, if we didn’t release it know, then you never know what might happen to it. Let’s just say that now feels like a good time.

The album currently has a release date of Friday 8th March. Is it all ready to go?

Yes it is, I am pleased to say that yes, it is all ready to go on the 8th March. You can pre-order the album from the likes of iTunes, Amazon and almost every other download platform. However, we will be selling the hard copy, the physical copy at the gigs. As I say you can pre-order the album now but the official date of release is Friday 8th March.

What formats will you be able to buy at the gigs?

At the gigs there will just be CD’s. We did look into releasing the album on vinyl but it is so very expensive to press as most people still see vinyl albums as a bit of a novelty. Also, you can never guarantee selling them all which means that you have then got to store them out of the sun otherwise they will warp and be of no use to anyone. So we thought it best to stick to CD’s for now.

So there is still no sign of cassettes then?

(Laughter) no I have to say that we still have not gone down the cassette road as yet. However, having said that, I have to say that I have recently seen the current sales figures for cassettes here in the UK and they are actually turning around.

Don’t tell me, they will be bringing out Eight Track Stereo players once again sometime soon (laughter).

I really do hope not. I can always remember smashing my knees against eight track players which were screwed into the dashboard back in the day (laughter).

I have checked this morning and I see that there have been no band changes since we last spoke. Am I to take it that everyone is still getting along with each other just fine?

That’s right, everyone in J Lee and The Hoodoo Skulls are doing fine apart from the bass player Luke Sohl Williams who unfortunately will not be playing on the support tour. Luke at the minute is busy with his own side project so we have got a good friend of ours, Mike Hartlett who is a phenomenal bass player playing on the tour. We gave him the call and Mike jumped at the chance. We are busy rehearsing at the moment so fingers crossed we will be ready for the gig on 2nd March.

Will you be playing many festivals this year?

Yes we will. We are already looking forward to playing a few festivals here in the UK during the summer. We played quite a few festivals last year so we are on the same kind of wheel again this year. Playing festivals this year was obviously another good reason for us to release the album at the beginning of the year so we will have something to promote as well when it comes to festivals. That for us is a really good place to be in.

Haven’t you recently received an exciting email regarding a live session?

(Laughter) yes we have, just who have you been speaking to. We recently received an email from the Bob Harris headquarters asking us if we would like to play a session at Bob’s Under The Apple Tree Studios and that will hopefully be happening sometime in March. For us to be asked to go down there and record a session is brilliant. It really is such an honour. For us to be associated with Bob Harris, who truly is a living legend, I think will be fabulous. I don’t actually know if Bob will be there or not but it’s taking place at his studios which for me really is close enough. I don’t feel that J Lee and The Hoodoo Skulls are a million miles away from what Bob plays anyway. Bob plays a lot of Bluesy Americana tracks on his radio show.

At least the BBC still allow Bob to play what Bob wants to play.

That’s right and so they bloody well should. He has earned the right to bloody well play whatever he wants to play and I say long may he reign.

That really is refreshing in a corporation like the BBC where their whole ethos towards playing music appears to have gone out of the window don’t you think?

These people try to change things for the best but sometimes if it’s not broken then don’t try to fix it. Bob’s show has now been running for as long as it has for a reason. It is irrelevant that Bob has been doing what he has for such a long time. It works so leave it alone (laughter).

Would you agree that we need another TV show along the lines of Top Of The Pops; like another musical outlet on the TV.

Yes I do and whilst it is a shame that Top Of The Pops was eventually taken off our screens, I can actually see where the BBC were coming from when they did finally pull the plug on Top Of The Pops. The show had been running with the same format for such a long time that regardless of whether or not I think that it would be a good idea to bring the show back in some guise, the simple truth is that if you haven’t got the viewing figures, then maybe it has had its day. We have Jools Holland’s show which seems to keep going and going and going which I honestly feel is because it is aimed at a slightly older audience. Maybe there is a certain age range that wants to sit down and watch such a varied group of artists on the show.

The problem that I personally have with Later…With Jools Holland is that you see a group or an artist on the show but then you never see or hear of them again.

(Laughter) well this is the thing, back when it first started I would watch the show and I knew most of the bands or artists that were appearing on the show. Now whenever I put on Jools Holland I might, if I am lucky, know one of them (laughter). That is not to say that my mind is closed to new stuff, but I now feel that the show is so diverse, and so kind of worldly. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with that, they are trying to cover all bases and that is great, but as a viewer I want to be influenced by new things. But I feel that the show is now a little too abstract for me. I simply don’t get it. Having said that, I’m sure that there are many more people out there that do, but it’s not for me.

Well I have to be honest with you and tell you that I have been caught out many times now. I listen to something on Jools, like it, go straight out and buy the album, get it home, play it and think what the bloody hell is this (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I know exactly what you mean. You recognise the first track, and after that you think ‘what the hell is this rubbish’ (laughter). That’s one good thing about not having to buy the whole album nowadays. A lot of the albums that I have recently bought for just the one track which I had heard are, as you say, crap (laughter). I have forgotten the amount of times that I have lost ten quid. Having said that you can now simply download however many tracks from the album you want which I suppose is really good as a buyer.

That really does annoy me because you guys put so much time and effort into writing and recording an album, and you actually put down the tracks sequentially as to how you believe the album should be listened to. That is where I honestly believe that Spotify is spoiling music because the kids are simply cherry-picking certain tracks off the album.

That’s right and I am so pleased that you are aware of that fact. It is refreshing to know that at least someone appreciates the time and effort that goes into sorting out a running order for the album. It is always hard to find the correct running order for the tracks on the album, especially when it comes to the opening track. There is a feel whenever you are putting tracks down together, a momentum, and some things just sound as though that is how they are supposed to run. Whenever they don’t, let me tell you, they sound awful. I always feel that there are waves which an album should go in and if you don’t get it right then you are not maximising the influence or the thought process and the feeling behind how it is supposed to sound.

Once these copies of the album have sold perhaps I will release it again in a different order simply to confuse the buyers (laughter). If you don’t put a cap on it you can go mad. You can find yourself with a nosebleed whilst trying to work out the order in which the tracks should go.

Why not release it on vinyl with nothing on it except for the odd second or two of white noise (laughter).

(Laughter) this album is pretty old school anyway in the sense that most tracks are either three or three and a half minutes long. That is taking you back to albums of the 50s whereas in the 70s we were into tracks that were six or even seven minutes in length. Don’t get me wrong, we are really pleased with the album; it has got a really retro looking sleeve which is trying to emulate the vinyl aspect of it, complete with a Made In Stereo logo on it together with creases on the sleeve. As I have said the ten tracks on the album are either three or three and a half minutes long, which means that you can listen to it twice on a short journey (laughter).

Perhaps you should have put it out as a double album with an acoustic version of the album as disc two (laughter).

(Laughter) yes, a fantasy album or something.

On the subject of the new album Black Moon, I have to be honest with you and say that I absolutely love it.

Thanks mate, we are all really pleased with it. I personally think that the album has a good sound together with a good feel. The first three tracks that I bought to the table were 2 Bit Lovers, Woman and Save Me which really does have a more gospel feel to it. It’s strange how those three tracks found themselves being the first three tracks on the album.

We have been chatting about listening to the album in a certain order, well I find that 2 Bit Lovers grabs you and takes you in a journey through the album.

Yes it does. It starts with a really nice deep south slide guitar together with a bit of vocals and then suddenly you hear that shuffle on the drums, and then it builds and builds and builds into this really edgy kind of guitar solo and riff. That particular track is a real builder which then drops you in nicely for the gutsy riff of Woman.

Before I do any interview I like to listen to the album being promoted and make a few notes. I started writing 2 Bit Lovers, Woman, Save Me and before I knew it I had name checked every single track on the album. Each and every track has legs of its own; they can stand up individually from the rest of the tracks on the album. There are no McCartney’s on there are there.

That’s great to hear and like you, I don’t think that there are any fillers (McCartney’s) on the album either (laughter). Obviously I am biased towards the album but each track stands out in its own right. We had other songs that we could have put on there but we all decided that we should stick with the ten best ones. Just because you have got other tracks doesn’t mean that you have to shoehorn them in. I think that if you are going to make an album then you should make it the best one that you possibly can. If you haven’t got enough songs that are any good then wait until you have written them. What I don’t want to do is to start flicking forward over the tracks that I am not that keen on.

I certainly don’t want people to have to make excuses for the tracks on the album when they are listening to it. I just thought best bits on the album, shoulders back, head held high, I’m happy with that, it’s going to knock your bloody socks off. I really am so proud of the album. The tracks are really good, the album has got the sound that we wanted, and it has an edgy, bluesy, gutsy contemporary feel about it. It’s not an out and out three chord blues album although I think that some tracks have got four chords in them which is unheard of (laughter). So yes, we are all really pleased with it. There are three things which let you know exactly what J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls are all about.

It starts off with our name. It is quite old school. Anything with so and so and the watchyoumacallits really is old school; Bill Hayley And The Comets, Gene Vincent And The Blue Caps, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers; it really is an old school name. Then you have got the look; it has that southern look with the bootlace ties, the big buckles and whatever. And then you have got the sound which really does marry everything up together. When you see the image you have a pretty good idea of what it is going to be. You look at the album sleeve and think ‘I know just what this is going to sound like’. We wanted all the tracks on the album to empathise, relate and hit home. That is what it is that you are going to be getting.

Whilst I was listening to the album I wrote down dirty blues, would you agree with me on that?

Yes I would, absolutely. Its edgy, it’s dirty, it’s a bit sleazy, its dirty blues.

Do you have a personal favourite track on the album?

If I had to pick just the one track then I would have to say that I do like Electric Blue. It really does have a nice bluesy structure to it. Essentially it is about a guy who falls madly in love with a lady of the night, who performs in a nightclub. He goes there and falls madly in love with her. Obviously he finds himself sitting in a room full of lots of other men appreciating her talents and he falls in love with her. He tells her that he can take her away from it all, and it is to be honest a kind of weird love story (laughter). The music suggests the sleaziness of the club, whilst the lyrics are ‘let me take you away and get you out of here’ type of thing. I like the whole glam rock feel of that particular track. So yes, that is my favourite track on the album.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when writing?

Whenever I am asked who or what has influenced me along the way I always give the same answer; it has to be my dad (Shakin’ Stevens). The style of music that he was making back then and even up to the present day, I would have to say that it is him who has influenced me and my career. I would spend ages as a youngster listening to dad’s records and also going through his record collection. He had a real mixture of artists in his record collection. There was rock and roll, blues, gospel, cajun, all that kind of stuff. So I would get in there and record all of his collection onto tapes. I would make my own compilations as everybody did back then.

So I had access to this fantastic library of different music and artists that I got off on. I loved his style of music back then, I always have. When I was growing up I wasn’t that fussed with the charts; I was far too busy trying to find other artists of that same fit, style and feel. Let me just say that I don’t try to do it but it simply comes out. That is how I write, that is what is in me. I could try and write in a different style but at the end of the day that simply wouldn’t be me. It all works as it is.

Putting you on the spot, why should I buy the album?

Well, if you like anything that is good, then you really should buy it. If you have got an ounce of taste in your body then you should buy it. It is a new bluesy album by a new band who are doing it now. If you like The Black Keys then you should buy this album. They are saying the same things that I am saying. Why not suck it and see if you like it before you buy it. Give it a try on Spotify. If you like the blues either traditional or contemporary then what have you got to lose.

If you hadn’t have had a career in music what would you have been doing today?

(Laughter) I don’t really know but what I will say is that I wouldn’t be doing something that I don’t enjoy that’s for sure. Who knows? The thing is that when you have got a family, you have got bills to pay, you have to put food on the table, and sometimes you haven’t got the luxury of doing something that you enjoy doing. There are millions of people out there doing something that they would most probably rather not be doing. However, society dictates that you have got to do something. So having said all of that, if I had the choice, I really don’t know.

So was it always going to be a career in music for you?

I always wanted it to be. I’m sure that there are a lot of kids out there who have gone into the same line of work as their mum or their dad, but for me as a young boy, going to see my dad up there on stage with tens of thousands of people shouting at him, in a nice way obviously, I thought ‘that looks really good, I wouldn’t mind doing that’. I was so very proud to tell people “that’s my dad up there”. It was a really proud feeling and something that I have always had and something that I always will have. I really am a huge fan of both him and his music. I genuinely love what he does and I think that he is brilliant at it.

So for me to see him up there performing was absolutely fantastic. If you do a job that you love then it’s not really a job is it. That is the dream of everybody I think. Life is too short to spend eight hours a day doing something that you hate.

Are there any thoughts on the next album as yet?

Well as you know I am always writing stuff down, and I am always putting little riffs on my phone. So yes, there are plenty of ideas, but it takes so long to do anything these days that you have really got to start these things sooner rather than later. So by the time that this album has done what it was going to do, you can’t afford to start from the beginning at the end of this one. You have got to back track halfway through so there is not as much of a gap for the next one. But yes, there are plenty of ideas being put down. Having said that nothing has been recorded, nothing has been finished but the ideas are most definitely there. We will just have to wait and see if there are enough there to start something.

What was the first record that you bought?

That’s easy, it was Move It by Cliff Richard And The Drifters who as you know later became The Shadows.

Who did you first see performing live?

That was dad, many years ago now.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Wow where the hell did that come from (laughter). Electric Blue because the drums were never loud enough (laughter).

On that note Jay let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great once again. Enjoy the tour and bye for now.

Thanks Kevin it’s always a pleasure speaking to you. Thank you very much. You take care and I hope to see you in Birmingham.