Most of the interviews with two-time Grammy nominated songwriter and musician Raul Midón are about his music, his solo performances that combine his “silky tenor voice and percussive guitar style,” and how he “creates a bebop ‘trumpet’ solo entirely with his lips”, but rarely was he asked about his journey as a blind artist.
As you read our phone conversation, you may agree with me that he is not yet very comfortable talking about it. But I knew that he wanted to talk about it because this was the motivation behind the album that won him his first Grammy nomination, “Bad Ass and Blind,” which came out in 2017.
As mentioned on his website, www.raulmidon.com, Midón “has collaborated with such heroes as Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers, along with contributing to recordings by Queen Latifah, Snoop Dogg and the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s 'She Hate Me.'” Midón, who is from New Mexico and has lived in Maryland since 2008, studied jazz at the University of Miami, and he will be opening the 50th Anniversary Lubber Run free summer concert series on June 14.
I wonder, have you forgiven life and accepted the circumstances that caused your blindness?
MIDÓN: No, I mean I was born premature and was put in an incubator. This was back in the '60s. There was a whole generation of people in this country back then in the rural areas where they were just starting to use the incubator and they didn't protect the eyes. So, it doesn't happen anymore. But there was a bunch of people from the '60s who were blinded that way.
Do you forgive life for what happened?
MIDÓN: Do I forgive it? Oh, yeah. I mean I don't ... Yeah, people have asked me that. "Oh, did you ever think about suing them?" No, because it's not ... I mean first of all, they didn't mean to do it and second of all, that's my life. And I don't have any grudges.
It's not just about suing them. How do you feel about it?
MIDÓN: Well, I mean, of course there are times when I wish I wasn't blind, but I mean I think I have become sort of philosophical about it. I think I've been given so many other things that I don't really feel ... I mean, I'm 53 years old now, so I've made my life. It is what it is and I feel fine with it ... a long, long, long time ago I stopped feeling bad about it or ashamed of it or anything like that.
I'd like to know about your journey from New Mexico to Miami as a blind artist. I feel that you didn't talk much about this, your journey as a blind artist.
MIDÓN: Well, I mean that's why I sort of came out with the “Bad Ass and Blind” record. Until a few years ago, I was always a little ambivalent about talking about being blind, and part of it is you always get lumped in with Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. I think it's something that I'm ... I mean, when I was at Miami, I was a student, so I wasn't really an artist. I didn't really become an artist until I moved to New York really. I was a studio musician. I was a singer for hire. You are an artist when you go out on your own and you create your own material and you make your career with your own material. That's what makes an artist, I think.
I feel like your marriage was a turning point for you.
Did you move to New York after getting married?
MIDÓN: Yes. I got married in '99 ... we moved to New York in 2002. And it was very courageous of my wife to move to New York with a blind guy at 36 years old. I don't recommend that.
Was it a love story between you and her?
MIDÓN: Yeah, I mean, I think ... just whatever gifts and whatever I have without her support I could have never done ... I could never be doing what I'm doing. It's just a fact of life that I have a tremendous amount of support in all kinds of ways. So, yeah, absolutely. And we are a team.
A team, okay. Also, you produced “Bad Ass and Blind” after you moved to New York?
MIDÓN: No, “Bad Ass and Blind” was just two years ago. I moved to New York in 2002. I didn't produce albums until I moved here [Maryland] because I didn't have a studio in New York. So when I was in New York, I was on Blue Note Manhattan Records actually. And I made records with Joe Martin in New York. It's when I moved here that I had the room for the studio in my house here [Maryland].
Wow. And I feel that “Bad Ass and Blind” was also a turning point because it is the first album for which you received a Grammy nomination.
MIDÓN: Yeah, absolutely, and I completely did not expect it at all.
MIDÓN: It just came out of the blue. I mean, I'd sort of given up on the Grammys to tell you the truth. I think, as an artist, you can't do your work thinking about awards like that. You just have to do it and see what happens, you know, and I feel that way now even with the two Grammy nominations. You just have to just do it. Because you really don't know how the world is going to receive anything you do. And at least for me, it's not a high priority. Like I'm doing what I feel I need to do as an artist and where the creative spirit leads me, and I'm not creating things to try to get more successful. That's just not the way I work. Some people do, I don't.
You create work because you are in the moment. You enjoy what you do. You express yourself. Is that why?
MIDÓN: Yeah, well no, because it's my calling, you know? So, I do it. I love doing it. So yeah, it's just what I do.
Do you wish you were as famous as Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles?
MIDÓN: I mean, who wouldn't want to have that, but at the same time, you kind of have to accept ... I mean, would I like to have access to that much money? Absolutely. But at the same time, I feel very ... I feel like I have everything I need. I mean, when you start out you sort of start out with this chronic dissatisfaction. You want more and more and more. And I don't really feel that way anymore. I feel like as long as I can do work then I do work. And I mean, I have food. I have shelter. I have support, love. I mean, what else do you need, really? It all becomes sort of this constant chase and I feel like that is not really good for your health. I had that for a long time, and I sort of let go of that chronic, "I want more."
Tell me more about the upcoming Lubber Run Amphitheater Festival in Arlington. How interesting is this for you?
MIDÓN: Well, I like working around here. I think this is a pretty diverse community, the whole sort of DMV area. There are a lot of people here that enjoy the arts and there are a lot of arts here. There are a lot of good venues here. It's a pretty cool place to work, actually.
I agree. What is your most-requested song?
MIDÓN: Well, if you look on Spotify, by far, it's the song "You and I." I'm not sure why that is.
It has millions and millions of streams and everything else is in the hundreds of thousands. I don't quite understand that.
Wow. Tell me more about it. How did you write this song?
MIDÓN: It's actually a love song. It's a song about, as some of them are, about my wife and I and just ... I don't know, it's just a love song, basically. And it's the most popular, at least on Spotify.
But you don't think there is a reason.
MIDÓN: It's funny because that song is on “Bad Ass and Blind” and ... we were actually thinking of cutting it because it's, I don't know, a little more commercial sounding than a lot of songs on the album. And we were thinking of cutting it and I'm glad we didn't.
Interesting! Don’t you think, my reader?