©2006 Sepia Prod -All rights reserved.



Homegrown is Napoleon Washington’s second album. Featuring 12 original compositions and one Skip James song, it has been recorded in New York and mixed in Switzerland. As the result of a love affair between Washington and the blues, Homegrown follows the debut album «Hotel Bravo» and continues it exploration work.».

  1. Ain't Nobody Napoleon Washington 3:58
  2. If You Hadn't Come My Way Napoleon Washington 4:09
  3. Single-Side Coin Napoleon Washington 4:50
  4. Crucify Yourself Napoleon Washington 4:23
  5. Who Craves To Know Napoleon Washington 5:21
  6. I Crossed Her Way Napoleon Washington 4:23
  7. Let It Roll Napoleon Washington 2:59
  8. A Friday Night Song Napoleon Washington 4:08
  9. Nail In My Shoe Napoleon Washington 3:25
  10. Second Best Napoleon Washington 2:56
  11. Know You Can Napoleon Washington 1:48


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Executive production and coordination : Eric «Prod» Laesser for Sepia Productions

Produced by : Napoleon Washington


Piano and Hammond : Spencer Limbough

Bass and electric upright : Chuck Schmalleger

Drums : Isaac Castner

Percussion : Jeffrey Baldacci

Additional drums : Cletus Berg


Recorded at : Temple Sound Brooklyn NY

Additional recordings at : Keith Brayer Studio NYC

Mixed at : studio mecanique La Chaux-de-Fonds

Mastered at : Greenwood Studios Unningen

Rec and mix engineer : Fabian Schild

Second engineer : John Sidhwa

Assistant : Alan Brayer

Mastering : Glenn Miller


New York coordination : Chris Leeson

Who, where, what, how: a few questions and answers with Washington around “Homegrown”.


You recorded «Hotel Bravo», your debut album, under a traffic bridge in your swiss hometown. Then you chose a studio option in New York to record the second one.


« Yes… You know, I imagine it goes with albums like it goes with kids. You may feel they belong to you, but they all have a personality of their own, a temper of their own. You do your best to raise them long as you’re in charge, then breath deeply and let them confront the world.
They’ll make their own friends and live their own life. If your albums all sound the same, you’re probably trying too hard to format things: I feel there’s a natural rhythm to everything, a groove, like in tides, in seasons, like in one’s own breath or heartbeat.
You got to let it roll and humbly observe those things, you have no control. You can barely set up an environment, but not much more, and that’s why I had to record the debut album at home.
Because it had to be a statement, it had to say “here’s who I am, here’s where I grew up, here’s the rumble of my hometown and how sounds the air I’ve been breathing most of my life”.
And only then, once this foundation was laid we could build something on top and be sure it wouldn’t be pretending, whatever the project.
There’s two different, however very intricate, elements: the person and the music.
My belief is that since I record albums for people and not for myself, I have to politely introduce both in the proper sequence. »
« In other words, after recording in the man’s physical home, we were free to go record in whatever surroundings would suit the music.
So about New York, it is just a metaphor of the planet. It’s a cultural gumbo of a million colors, an hyper-active and extremely concentrated collection of people, lives, big and small stories all happening and passing by at lightspeed. Elements from many different cultures crammed into one single spot, trying to find their way to live together: it kind of matches my situation.
I was born in Europe, yet I live on a culture and its musical expression originated 7,000 miles from my place some 85 years ago. That’s a wide stretch to live and one may see it as a nonsense, still it’s a fact. Let’s call it a matter of chemistry, which is a decent way to avoid using the word “love” in every sentence… »
Anyway, from my point of view, it’s very natural: I live in a world getting geographically and culturally more and more accessible, distances have just melted.
Kind of like, a few hundreds years ago, the odds were that you would marry somebody from your own county but today, nobody’d be shocked if you show up with someone from another continent.
See, I can connect myself to the world 24 hours a day, I’m welcome to soak up any bit of culture I’m in need of from a million sources happy to share.
I can dig my own super-fast tunnel through space and time! Of course, I still have to digest it and sort it and do something interesting with all this.
But it’s at hand. Knowledge accessibility and low cost transportation changed the world. Or at least, I owe them mine. »

How would you define your music?


« I’d be happy to leave that to listeners and record store owners. That would suit me just fine. Actually, I don’t really have a desire – or a purpose, for that matter – to call it anything. But to answer the question, it generally ends up presented it as contemporary blues, which is a nice compliment, because I really, really intend to do something totally in phase with my time. I seek a form of modern blues because with my background – my main ingredient – I don’t see why or how I could imitate a music from another era, however much I’d love it. In my book, the music I listen to, the one that moves me, deserves more than imitation.
One could then holler that since I rarely play in the 12-bar form, or since I’m white, or since I’m european, it ain’t blues. I can’t protest, people have a right to think so. But I see the relationship between the Blues and me as a very personal love affair. It’s private business and as such, I don’t need it to go public, so the name tag is not so important. Plus, I believe the ultimate dream for any musician would be to have his own style, strong enough to describe itself. What music plays Tom Waits? Well Tom Waits plays Tom Waits, and that’s it. It happens at a very, very high level, I may never reach that point, but it’s all what matters just the same.
Also, there’s a very important notion for me: those from the twenties and thirties we respectfully portray today as the ancestors, the masters, the granddads or the godfathers were indeed pioneers, young bucks badly in need of a revolution, of kicking in the old stable with a modern sound. It’s the same with painting: you got Turner, Monet, Manet, throwing a mess in there – those were a bunch of nasty party-crashers, you know! Not wallpaper designers as we may picture them today. And long after that come Picasso or Matisse or, ultimately, Rothko for example. Only after, see? Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House or Skip James, they did just the same. Pioneered. They opened doors.
Once again, that’s why I don’t have the slightest interest in trying to reproduce the notes or the lingo. That’s just not where it’s at, except for one’s self, for the educational purpose. Besides the music itself, my love and respect go to the very attitude. »

What’s your relationship with «roots» music then?


« I’ll speak in my name only, but for me, this album is roots music allright. Once again, I believe it’s got more to do with an attitude than with a formal, codified genre denomination. Plus, every tree got its own roots! Roots music is a generic label, it’s so vague. We’d be better off speaking of SOIL music.
The soil, the earth, whatever the whole forrest gets its nutrients from. In what respect, I’m here to tell, I’m throwing my own roots deep as I can in the black american soil and I bath myself in the southern rain as much as I can. That’s for the roots. But I want to take care of the leaves, trunk and branches too.
Now, the traditional form is really one I love, both playing and listening to. It’s really fascinating. But playing it for an audience, well, it’s a whole other thing.
Number one, I think blues is really choking today with clichés of being an «old music», something that would somehow belong to history, and if they ever die it’ll be because of that. There’s no better way to enforce that poor vision than playing the songs of Robert Johnson on stage. True, there is one song from Skip James on Homegrown, but I respectfully use it as a Trojan Horse, it’s here to say «Here’s where I come from, I did’nt invent anything».
Second, I think playing the classics again and again often is a way of avoiding the confrontation: you don’t like it, then it’s Johnson or Patton you don’t like, not me. I’m safe. Well, I’d see myself as a coward if I’d do that. It takes guts to adress people with your own choices. It’s where the real risk’s at. »

Speaking about options, while Hotel Bravo was 100% acoustic, Homegrown has a wider instrumentation.


« That’s right, still I think it’s a detail. It’s me in both albums. Just different clothes on certain songs.
Besides, I think it’s a job where you just have the freedom you grant yourself and I want to use that freedom. I get scared when people start to see the type of instrument you use as a religion. I’m not an “acoustic” or an “electric” musician, God forbid. That just don’t mean nothing.
I try to make music, that’s all, to raise emotions, not flags. I use what I feel is right, and I try things.
You’re wrong if you limit yourself with frozen principles. When a song is bare naked, it’s a hard thing to listen to how you wish it would sound, and then transcribe it for the session.
But that’s the part I love best. Production. Bringing things to people. I love that. »

Except for main engineer Fabian Schild, all the musicians and techs involved in this recording are from New York. Why is that?

« It’s another part of the project. I don’t see myself as an artist, not a bit. I’m a blue-collar, very happy to be so, and however I have a real passion for my job, it is just that: a job.
Nothing depreciative at all, it’s a very noble word in my book. It’s taken hold of my whole life, conditions every move I make, it is something that requires a tremendous amount of care and knowledge and hard work, but I don’t see where the art thing would fit in there in my case.
I wanted this album to be made like that: with and by blue collars – respectfully – hired for the job, ready to give the maximum on the plant and then move to the next one. Now watch it, we were very careful to get people with a personality, and with a spirit to perfectly match the nature of the songs. Not guys who would punch in in the morning and do it like machines. That’s exactly what recording in the US is great for, working like that. For all I know, it’s much harder in Europe.
Now let me add this: the musicians who worked with me are not mercenaries. Far from it. Mercenaries are guys who involve themselves in a conflict they’re not concerned with, and go kill people they’ve never seen. Period. The people I worked with are like construction workers, or guys who build, say, boats: there’s a project somewhere, a team is set up with the right capabilities and skills and everybody works his ass off and then moves to the next boat, while this one goes sailing. Yes… it was exactly like that. And this type of craftsmanship deserves a lot of respect, in my opinion. A whole lot. »

Larry’s Short Takes


Swiss bluesman Napoleon Washington continues to explore the roots and branches of the blues on his second release. An even dozen originals along with the Skip james classic, “Illinois Blues”, make up this delightful package.


Napoleon is firmly rooted in the blues but approaches his music with a decidedly modern approach. His raspy vocals and haunting resophonic guitar harken bluesmen of the past, but his 21st century style make it all his.


Napoleon’s songs rarely follow a 12-bar format but to not classify it as blues would be a disservice as his music is as searching as the Charley pattons and Son Houses of their era.

Larry Lisk
Twelve Bar Rag

The Road To Washington


I hope there are some fortunate souls that got to see the Swiss blues band, the Crawlin’ Kingsnake Blues Band, perform with the late Rock Bottom in 1998 at Skipper’s when they toured Florida to launch their debut album, Stomp My Feet. (Sepia Productions).


Lead guitarist for the group, Raph Bettex, was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland and picked up the guitar at age 12. After learning to play he did several tours in the early nineties with New Yorker Gary Setzer and the Roustabouts (Brian Setzer’s brother) and backed the late Rock Bottom on tour in Europe and several studio gigs for five years before touring the U.S. in 1998.


Raph then morphed into Napoleon Washington.


The moniker, Raph explains, refers to the French history of Louisiana and not only refers to the ‘motherland’ of the blues, but also for its mixture of different cultures forced to adapt themselves to a new land that was not always chosen (African, French-Acadian, Spanish) considering that the actual idea of being disconnected from one’s roots is nested somewhere in playing the blues in Europe. Plus it is also a respectful tribute to emancipated slaves who, when freed, realized they needed ‘two names’ and often named themselves after presidents, Lincoln, Washington, or Jefferson.


In 2003 Napoleon Washington released his debut solo album Hotel Bravo after going totally acoustic. It features 14 original songs and was entirely recorded under a traffic bridge next to a freight train yard. Raph had no difficulty convincing Eric Laesser, his agent/manager/and longtime friend to let him record under a bridge located ten minutes from his work.


After finding such a perfect venue, Napoleon explained,


« The next thing I know, I’m sitting there for two months: watching trains, hearing planes, meeting dogs and clouds with the city rumble in the background. The songs kept a-coming and plus, since the blues can’t deal with pretending, I better be true to myself. That’s my town, my place, my reality.  I ain’t born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in the first place. »


Alligator record’s boss, Bruce Iglauer, admitted he regretted not giving U.S. market to the CD because of two major difficulties, Napoleon is European and white and he also lacks reputation.


The CD received extensive European airplay and demonstrates a true understanding of Delta blues and has spent many hours in my own CD player.


Napoleon recently tracked me down on my computer after losing contact for about a year due to an e-mail address change. I first met him in 1998 and we corresponded over the years and he told me about his new project, the Washington Theatre.


This innovative approach to web video just knocked me out; so, I thought it was time to stalk Napoleon and convince him to share with us how a Swiss plugged guitarist who worked with the late Godfather of Tampa Bay Blues morphed into an acoustic Napoleon Washington. His Washington Theatre is awesome and deserves your attention as an exciting multi-media approach to web-based publicity. It is a cutting-edge approach to technology and music video. The shift to acoustic blues was a natural one for Napoleon. According to him,


« You know it’s just love, that’s all it is. And that love is the gasoline I use to fill up my tank with, and I expect to travel pretty far. The only thing is, I need to get myself a comfortable seat, no matter how slow the car is. With a good seat and a big tank, I’m bound to make it a long trip. I’m telling you, I have never felt as comfortable as I do today in this acoustic stuff. I found my seat, right here. »


What happened next is best told by Napoleon himself:


« It was early one balmy afternoon in St.Pete in the end of May I think, something like six years ago. I yelled, Rock! Mind if I grab that axe of yours ‘n sit on the stairs awhile?  »
« “Go ‘head”, I heard him yell back, in a tone that rather meant…
Why the hell you bother me with a question like that? 
Well, Rock Bottom it was, bless his soul. Godfather of many. We had played five tours in Europe with him, and now I was touring Florida for the second time with my band, the Crawlin’ Kingsnake Blues Band from Switzerland, and we were staying at Rock’s. That’s just how nice he was. »


The guitar?


« That’s my point. It was a beautiful National Tricone that Rock claimed to have gotten ‘as a salary for producing an album for Roy Bookbinder. 
Rock had seemed too busy to answer me minutes before, but I eventually caught a glimpse of him watching me playing through the living-room window. When I came back in, he was sitting on the couch with a legal pad, scribbling furiously.
“Your gig is a late one”, he said.
I just booked some time in a studio, early afternoon. We’ll be rolling some tape. I’m putting down some new stuff and we’ll have a little rehearsal with the rest of the band in a while.
“That okay with you?”
I was bewildered. We had recorded a little with him in Switzerland in the past, but nothing fancy. Now he just had heard me on the steps and figured I finally could be of some use. See, Rock didn’t have a very high opinion about me as an electric guitar player, and he was damn right. I was hopeless. But right there, he had heard how bad I loved that acoustic thing. Rock couldn’t be fooled.
We played the studio gig, I was flying. And much more than all this, during the recording, he called me “brother”… it’s a little hard for me, emotionally speaking, to listen to that CD now for I still miss him, but it is one of my most cherished memories to this day.
After that, he always encouraged me to keep on with the acoustic, and even said good things around when I put out my first demo as Napoleon Washington some time later.


The final thing, besides Rock’s advice, that made me morph into Napoleon Washington is a French part to the story.
See, when we recorded the Crawlin’ Kingsnake album “Stomp My Feet” in 1997, I was looking for a National to borrow. Hard thing to find. Until I dropped a line one day by Tomcat Blake, who at that time was living in France very close to my place. “I’ll see what I can do”, he just said. Couple of weeks later, he called me. “Come grab your stuff”. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I went.
Right there in his living room, he had a 1929 National Triolian for me to take to my session. I couldn’t believe it! “That yours?” I asked. “Nope. Some guy, friend, who builds up his own resonator guitars, mind you. Collector. Lends you this one. Thinks it’ll match your style.” I didn’t even know I had a style. I did the job, and asked no questions. I was too afraid I might wake up from the dream. »
« Only after that did I ask for the guy’s address and brought it back to him. And guess what? We became friends. His name is Pierre Avocat, and along with another guy named Mike Lewis, they hand-build resonator guitars under the brand name of Fine Resophonic. Beautiful instruments, custom-made, production of no more than twenty-five a year… built some for John Campbell, Michael Messer, Eric Clapton.
When we got back from Florida, I called Pierre to say hello and told him the story with Rock’s tricone. And then, as a matter of small talk, I dared “and how much would you charge me for a single-cone style-O guitar from y’all?” “Dunno. Gotta check”.
When he got back with me later, he said “I done called Mike. Told him about you. He said if the boy pays for the wood and metal, I’ll make him one. You interested?’
They made me one. They could’ve offered it to Clapton, but no, they offered it to me. To this day, I have no words to describe what it means to me. Suffice to say it absolutely changed my life. Period.
Today, I’m about to take off for a flight to New York to record my next album. I’ll tell you more about that in time, but I’m very excited with the way it’s happening. Recording in the US is really soul-feeding for us Europeans, as things are really different over here. Music in general, and blues all the more, is hardly a business. It gives you a lot of room artistically, but it also makes things very heavy to carry sometimes. »


Just as this was to go to press, I had the opportunity to ask Napoleon about his recent recording experience in New York. As he described it,


« It was more like a 20 hours-a-day-in-the-studio effort, but everything went incredibly smooth.
See, my method is to simply try to turn whatever may-at first sight-look like obstacles into something that’ll work my way.
What I mean is this: I’m a European guy playing American music. Which results in the fact that I’ll always miss something, whatever the side of the ocean I’m at. Not so easy to deal with. But on the other hand, I can turn that into the fact that I’m-at least partially-home on both continents! Then, just take the best out of both worlds, because that gives you some sort of ‘legitimate’ access to everything.
For this album, I wanted to work with the American efficiency, professionalism and knowledge of the proper musical vocabulary. Record with guys I had never met and will never see again, for kicks, to test myself. And it worked great, because I could use the European precision, preparation and care.
I spent more than 18 months on preproduction in my own studio, and that led to razor-edge precise demos for every song. We could track very, very fast. I’m just damn lucky, but I feel like we all are: it’s just a matter of finding where our own luck is hiding. »


After falling in love with the Hotel Bravo CD, the Blues Stalker, sight unseen, is betting that with this CD to be released in December, Napoleon Washington will find out his luck is lurking in this release.


Monte Adkinson
La Hora del Blues