Not all blues music is the same, as Mark Tolstrup knows quite well.
The Glens Falls-based guitarist has spent the past 40 years honing his own particular brand of Delta blues — one of the earliest styles of the music that developed, as its name suggests, in the Mississippi Delta in the early 1900s. The raw style is characterized by a simpler, rhythmic approach and prominent acoustic slide guitar, as opposed to the full-band approach that came later with the Chicago blues style.
Like some of the earliest Delta blues singers, Tolstrup has spent most of his musical career playing solo, utilizing a National resonator guitar. That began to change with the release of his 2005 solo album “Root Magic,” which he recorded with drummer Dale Haskell and bassist (and Trey Anastasio Band member) Tony Markellis. Soon, Haskell was playing with Tolstrup on gigs, and eventually the two began writing together.
Street Corner Holler
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Gaffney’s Restaurant, 16 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs
How Much: Free
More Info: 587-7359, www.gaffneysrestaurant.com
“The blues means different thing to different people,” Tolstrup said. “A lot of people around here are doing the full-on rock band kind of blues. What we do is a little different than that, definitely a much more stripped-down, roots kind of a blues approach, and [Haskell] understood that. He was one of the first guys I had played with who listened to and knew the music that I was coming from — Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell. We just sort of clicked.”
The duo, now known as Street Corner Holler after their first album together in 2009, have quickly become a staple on the Saratoga Springs music scene. Markellis joins the two on upright bass whenever he’s not on the road with Anastasio — he’ll be there for the band’s next show at Gaffney’s Restaurant on Sunday night.
Their sets encompass everything from originals written by both Tolstrup and Haskell, to traditional blues songs and re-workings of songs from other genres — the album features an amped-up take on Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry.”
It’s similar to the mix of songs that wind up in Tolstrup’s solo performances, minus Haskell’s input. But with Tolstrup using distorted electric guitar and Haskell pounding out the beat on a stripped-down drum kit, the feel is different, even if the approach is similar.
“When I play electric guitar, it’s the same way I play the National,” Tolstrup said. “I did a gig with Honeyboy Edwards [before his death in 2011] — he was sort of the last living, first generation of Delta bluesmen. . . . He said this, and he was absolutely right — Delta blues is about your approach to music. It really has much more to do with how you play than what you’re playing it on.”
Both Tolstrup and Haskell are avid music lovers. As a kid in Boston in the ’60s, Tolstrup listened to everything, but found himself drawn to blues singers such as Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Dave Van Ronk via folk music.
“The kids in my school were all listening to the Rolling Stones, and I was listening to Robert Johnson,” Tolstrup said. “I’d play a Robert Johnson song, and people would be like, ‘Oh, that’s a Stones song.’ ‘No it ain’t, it’s Robert Johnson.’ Although I’m more into that kind of stuff now than I was back then. When I heard Son House — he was a really pivotal guy for me. That moves me, and that’s what I want to sound like. I’m still working on that.”
Initially, Haskell was just backing Tolstrup at his gigs — the two didn’t even have a name for their collaboration for about three years, until their duo CD “Street Corner Holler” came out. Soon Haskell was singing harmonies, and then lead on half the songs.
“Dale’s a great singer, and for me, coming from that background with the solo acoustic thing, having someone else willing and able to sing half the songs makes it more interesting,” Tolstrup said. “You can play a lot more behind a singer than you can when you’re playing by yourself.”
Songwriting came just as naturally to the pair. The majority of the songs on the duo’s album are originals, either written separately or together, and the two are working on another album. Markellis, who produced “Street Corner Holler” and “Root Magic,” will once again produce and play on the new material.
“Dale’s written a lot of songs — two-, three-hundred songs, in all kinds of styles,” Tolstrup said. “I write songs at a little slower rate, but always, my whole life I’ve always written songs. We don’t really make it a task or a job, we just let them come out when they want to come out.”
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