During the late 70’s while still just a teen, Bill Shaka was bitten by them Blue Devils in a big big way. Soon Shaka would be spending countless hours amassing and absorbing an ever expanding collection of 33 1/3 l.p.’s, 45’s & 78 rpm Rhythm & Blues records…a passion which still continues on today in the digital age.
Before long Shaka would discover that many of the entertainers which he enjoyed listening to on record were still very much alive and actively performing on college campuses, at festivals, and at nightclubs in the region…some nearly in his own back yard!
It would take a backstage encounter one evening with harmonica playing heavy James Cotton which would be the catalyst for shaking Shaka’s world. On that evening Cotton patiently schooled the youngster backstage showing him a few licks and tricks of the trade on his humble Mississippi saxophone.
Eventually Shaka’s enthusiasm and relentless squealin’ would become too much for even Cotton’s road seasoned ears to handle! “There’s no polite way to say shut the f… up and let it rest awhile” says Shaka, so the Buddha of the blues harp did the next best thing, he dropped the f… word from the mix. “It’s all part of the schooling”, according to Shaka, “knowing when to play, and knowing when to well… just SHUT UP”!
At a time when most of Shaka’s peers were focused on furthering their education, Shaka was gaining an education of a completely different nature. Using his thumb efficiently he would think nothing of hitchhiking to destinations well off the beaten path, most always accompanied by his closest traveling companion, the Hohner model 1896 Marine Band harmonica, searching for what he calls “TRUTH”.
Once Shaka hitched to a club to see his greatest influence on the instrument, Big Walter Horton.
When Shaka arrived at the club a few hours before the show, Horton, just happened to be standing outside. Shaka approached the harp maestro offering his hand in greeting and was snubbed by the cantankerous old blues man who turned his head away while shaking Shaka’s hand, “A letdown for sure” says Shaka, but he adds, “It turned out to be a magical evening of music” one which has left a lasting impression on him.
Fast forward to 1982:
Bill’s brother Tom a successful recording artist living in Europe, has asked Bill to join him on tour and make a special guest appearance on a handful of tunes for his upcoming L.P. “The Hamburg Sessions”. The session would also include a man whom many call the fifth Beatle, Tony Sheridan.
Bill cites such early experiences as being instrumental in sculpting his outlook on his offbeat vision of life. Shaka says with a chuckle, “the winding path which I chose to follow has lead me straight into a snake pit of gypsies, tramps, and thieves appropriately known as musicians”!
1984-87: Lived and performed in Austin Texas, recorded The Shaka Brothers “Bayou Boogie & Texiana Stomp”.
1988-91: Resided in Connecticut, was a co founding member of the roots blues trio Delta Stomp with Nate Simmons.
1992-2005: Primarily a resident of New Orleans with a three plus year stint spent in Phoenix, Arizona sandwiched in between.
2000 & 2001: Shaka toured with David “Honeyboy” Edwards overseas, he also recorded “Blues Blood” with his brother Tom, on the German label Acoustic Music Records.
Blues Blood featured guest appearances by both Honeyboy Edwards and long time friend Louisiana Red.
While a New Orleans resident Shaka fronted Shaka & the Swamptones on Bourbon Street and a later project called Shaka’s Harp & Soul.
2005 to present: A survivor of hurricane Katrina’s devastating floods, relocated to Birmingham, Alabama (a fish out of flood water), before resettling in Connecticut his place of birth.
In 2011 SwampShaka Duo with guitarist Tony C won the Connecticut Blues Society’s Blues Challenge in the Solo/Duo category, advancing as semi finalists at the International Challenge in Memphis, TN.
In October of 2013 the SwampShaka Duo w/Tony C again won the CT Blues Challenge heading back to Memphis, TN in January of 2014 to compete in the Internationals.
coincidentally, while competing in Memphis, Shaka & The SoulShakers CD “Heard A Mighty Rumblin” was up for an award in the best self produced CD category, having been chosen as the best self produced blues CD in the state of CT.