Earlier this summer, we gave 10 local bands the U2 BB King song "When Love Comes to Town," and told them to try their hand at covering it. We wanted to see how a wide range of talented artists from different genres and backgrounds would view the song and what it would sound like through their own unique filters. This week, we show you the first one, and it comes to us courtesy of James Biehn.
Ask anyone in the city to make a list of Iowa's best guitarists, and you are going to find Biehn on most of them. He's played with just about everyone in town that has needed a quality guitar, and recently released a full length CD with his own James Biehn Band. He also teaches the next generation of great Iowa guitarists at his Central Iowa Music Lab, and operates one of the two music summer camps in town.
With a background deeply versed in blues, Biehn our chosen song comes closest to being in James' natural habitat, so we thought it would be interesting to see how he would make the song his own.
Were you relieved that we didn't pick another Kanye track?
You know, I was kind of surprised. My students will bring stuff like that in, and I'm kind of like “Oh. Well, ok. Let's see.” There are things about the guy I don't agree with, but I'm always up for a challenge. This just ended up being a song that was more in my wheelhouse.
What was your approach, going into the process?
I didn't want to do a verbatim cover. I didn't want to do a full band thing,or something that was the same speed. The blues can be timeless. The lyrics aren't something that just applied to a specific moment in time. A lot of the blues are about trouble with the opposite sex, and that's a recurring theme throughout history. I love BB King's music, and some of that really broken down early stuff, that's what I was trying to get into. At least as far as a white guy from Iowa can, anyway.
Had you covered the song before?
No. Heard it a million times, though. I'd heard both the U2 version, and some TV program once had a clip of BB King doing it with his band. So I was familiar with the tune, but had never tried playing it before.
Did you enjoy the process then?
Oh yeah! I feel like some contemporary musicians have an aversion to learning cover songs. But when you get down to the brass tacks, the Des Moines Symphony is a cover band. You're just bringing your personality to a song, whether that's conscious or not. I love cover songs in a historical sense. You'll post this song, and maybe one of my students will hear it and go “oh, I've never heard that before” and maybe look it up, then maybe look up more BB King, and then maybe go further back. That's my goal with cover songs, at least. To get people interested and discover where all this stuff comes from. It's important to know your roots.
Can you see yourself paying it live at some point?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. Solo or with the band. In fact, I've started working it up. I definitely have that intention. I feel comfortable enough with my version now, where I feel like I can do justice to it.