Two years ago at the International Blues Challenge I had the good fortune to meet a young bluesman out of Mississippi. We chatted and hung out and as the week went along I became a fan of not only his music but him as a person. We spoke about life’s road and music and perception vs. reality – and with his consent, I officially declared him my ”nephew’.
We have been ‘framily’ ever since. I want to thank Peggy Brown & Marsha Wooten for introducing me to this incredible young man. Also Bill Wax for playing his music on his show and giving me the musical introduction to him.
Jarekus Singleton has no cap on his talent or ability, he is quickly becoming a ‘must see’ artist on the blues circuit. With his autobiographical music and lyrics that are some of the purest street poetry since the Beat Generation became, this young man is living proof that the Blues is Alive & Thriving.
B411: Jarekus – Hi. man how are things going, you keeping busy?
Jarekus Singleton: We had a cancel in our flight, so we had to stay in Houston for two days and I had to pay for hotel rooms. Eventually I had to get a rental car and my luggage still not with me. Then I had a Washington Post interview this morning that I had missed because I had had no sleep. It’s just been crazy
B411: Well that took care of the question I was going to ask you. I was going to ask you what was the most exciting thing that happened with all your touring!
JS: These are good problems. I like these problems.
B411: You’ve been busy dude – since January you were at the IBCs and then you signed with Alligator. You’re doing national touring now, right? You’ve been to California and all through the MidWest.
JS: We did Florida, Missouri, Illinois and then Delaware. We’ve got a 2 ½ month stretch in total. We’re gigging almost every day.
B411: That’s good! That’s getting the music out there to the people! That’s got to be cool for you. How does that feel?
Does it make you think why me or how did I get here?
JS: First, why me? I see a lot of talented cats. There are a lot of talented bands out there so I never take this lightly. I’m really blessed to be in the position that I am. And I really appreciate Bruce (Iglauer) and Alligator for being so supportive of me and my movement. I’m Jarkeus man, and that’s all the person I can be. I just was blessed enough that Bruce thought I was a pretty cool dude. It feels good Chef Jimi. My band – there are a lot of great bands out here. There are a lot of great bass players, guitarists, drummers. The thing that’s going to separate me from anybody else is the work ethic. And the fine tuning on details.
B411: Your band is pretty tight. I’ve seen you many times now, and I’m still when I see you guys play, you bring it. And every day it’s new and it’s fresh. Even the songs I know, cause I’ve heard them and I like them, and I know you’re playing it and I hear it coming, and I’m like yeah, yeah, this is the good part! But still, it’s always strong and always fresh. That’s great. You’ve got a different keyboard player now on tour?
JS: My cousin that normally plays keyboard with me, he had some things to deal with with his family, so when I go on tour he’s not able to go. So I’ve just been hiring rhythm guitar players here and I’ve got another keyboard player named Sam Brady that’s going to be with me for the remainder of this tour.
In Missouri, I had to have a rhythm guitarist and this past trip I had another rhythm guitarist playing with us so I’ve just been doing what I have to do to keep it going.
B411: How did that work with the rhythm guitarists?
JS: It worked well. The first time, I used a guy named David Jackson who was originally from Chicago. He’s one of my mentors here in Mississippi. He’s been living here since ‘98 and I met him on the circuit out here and he has been giving me a lot of sound advice. Then on the Missouri trip, I used my Uncle Tony. He’s the one who taught me how to play bass. He was already living in Irvine, California. He came out with me on this last trip on the west coast and he played rhythm guitar with me.
B411: That’s cool. So you’ve got fingers everywhere! You’ve got family all over the place. That’s good. You know they’re not going to mess with you.
JS: No, that ain’t going to happen.
B411: It was nice to see you at your CD release – you and the band. It was a different setting. It wasn’t at the IBCs, it wasn’t 20 minute set and all of that where you have to make sure you introduced yourself and the band. It was just you guys playing and it was really fun to watch you and the band play. And the people in the crowd – they were digging it, they were dancing, people were just having a great time. There was one extended song that you did – it was what I was calling the “dance mix” – the “Jarkeus Dance Mix”. It reminded me, this might be a little weird, forgive me, it sort of reminded me of Michael Burks. Because Michael would just play. Michael would play 24/7 if people were listening. And you just played and you would break into something, you’d do a little Freddy King and then you’d circle back into the little dance groove. That was just really, really cool. It was amazing to see it happen.
JS: I appreciate that Chef Jimi!
B411: OK, so I said Michael Burks and I said Freddy King. You’re a guitarist, so I’ll start with that.
Who did you look to? Who were your influences as far a guitar players?
JS: Derek Trucks just overwhelmed me! A good friend of mine named Stacy introduced me to Derek Trucks in 2009. And ever since she introduced me to Derek, I’ve been like WOW!
B411: He does that to a lot of people!
JS: It’s off the charts. Of course the three Kings, – Albert, Freddy, B.B. – all those guys inspired me a lot. Even when I saw John Mayer do his thing with the 3 piece band, the trio blew my mind as well.
B411: I saw John Mayer with BB King, like 15 years ago in Chicago and my jaw was on the floor!
JS: I didn’t know John Mayer was that good, because all I heard was his commercial stuff. Hot stuff.
B411: Yep, he does what he wants to do. I wish he would do some more non-commercial stuff.
JS: When I heard him doing that trio thing, doing the Hendrix and BB King covers. I bought the trio album TWICE cause I scratched the first one up! I played it so much.
B411: You could have just him a note saying, John, send me a release! The other thing about what you do is that I just think you’re an amazing song writer. And I’m not the only one. What I hear in your song writing, to me it comes from the rap and hip hop world because of the way you rhyme things and the way you phrase things. Am I correct?
JS: You’re hitting the nail on the head! Me growing up, there was “our culture”. Me and my friends we always listened to rap. And when you’re in the hood, you pass by every door step and everybody’s got a boom box outside playing some music. Someone’s riding up and down the street with some big speakers in their trunk playing the latest Little Wayne CD or something. So that’s all I had, that and church. Especially when I went to Church, I had the gospel part. Then, when I went home, it was hip hop and rap banging you across the head.
B411: So who did you listen to? You mentioned Little Wayne.
JS: Cash Money was real hot at that time. They had that group called Hot Boys that Little Wayne was in. Of course JZ was one of my big influences in Rap. DM Mix. There were just so many cats. There were a lot of local artists in Mississippi that I was looking at too. There were just rap artists everywhere!
B411: It broke out like poison ivy!
JS: There was a whole culture. We’d go to school and free style at lunch and beat on the table.
B411: I thought that was great. It’s such a creative thing to do. It just opens up all the channels for creativity. I see people and they say “that stuff [rap] is awful”. Just stop and listen!
JS: All of the ones about the ho’s and the guns. Hip hop is anti-blues. At least that’s what I perceive it as, at least from a fan based style. The blues don’t have a lot of hip hop fans cause I don’t think they actually sit down and realize where it comes from and why it is the way it is. Just like hip hop people don’t sit down and realize where the blues comes from. And that’s why a lot of people are running away from it because they don’t know the history. A lot of people are also running away from Rap because they don’t know the history. They just know what they hear on the main stream on the radio.
B411: I’ve always said, that hip hop and rap are just modern day blues! Where does it come from? It comes from the hood! It comes from the Black community and that’s where the blues came from. So you’ve got to listen in to what the young guys are doing and what the people are signing about and putting down. Because those are the people you want to carry it on. You don’t want the blues to be just middle aged white folks. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I might argue that that is not the ‘real’ blues.
I think you’re on point when you say a lot of people don’t understand because they don’t take the time. I think that you’re doing that with your music. You’re putting down that bridge for us all to access and use to ‘cross-over’. I know Grady Champion does a little mix of that. It actually looks like it’s coming out of Mississippi. I’m thinking Dexter Allen, Mr. Sipp people that I know, who combine a little bit of the young feel with a little bit of the blues to keep it contemporary and have young folks try to get behind it. That’s pretty cool.
JS: I’m just doing what’s in my heart. My momma pushed me. She said, all those lyrics that you’ve got, all those mix tapes that you were doing, and you were writing all these good lyrics. You need to use it. That was even before I started my band. When I had surgery [broken ankle that ended his basketball career], I was doing shows and cover tunes. When I came across a song, I’d play it for my momma and sing it for her. Because she was like, you need take that same approach that you were using for that rap stuff, you need to use that same approach for when you’re doing your blues thing. She’s the one that really opened my eyes to it. I’ve always been a person that’s been comfortable in my own skin. So I’m just doing me. That’s basically it!
B411: I met your mom! I thought that she was your sister!
JS: She does look pretty young. My momma is active. She’s always doing stuff. When she comes home, she’ll never sit down. She’ll try to find some work to do. My momma creates stuff. She made a chair out of neck ties! You can go sit on it right now and you’re not going to fall or nothing!
B411: Seriously?! That’s great. It’s nice that she supported you. As opposed to “just stop that stuff. You need to get a job.” That’s great because a lot of people don’t see that.
JS: She supported me. When she was growing up, my grand-daddy was a pastor of a church with her father. He preached against all this, against secular music. He preached against basketball. He preached against everything. My momma always told me, look, you do what you gotta do. I’m here to support you. Because she didn’t want my life being taken away because she didn’t get to follow her dreams. She couldn’t go to proms, the movies, all that kind of stuff. I thank god that she had the insight to just let me do what I needed to do.
B411: That’s sweet. Amen to that! So I have a burning question for you… people keep asking me this and I keep sending them to you, but no one seems to get the answer. So, for all the folks out there, what is #Reakdogginit? [both laughing] I’ve got to ask you that man!
JS: [laughing] Basically, the way it came about, one night I was by myself, it might have been about 2 o’clock in the morning. I was just driving, and you know people call you and say “man, what are you doing?” And they’re just trying to be nosy and see what you’re doing. And it really, it’s about me not trying to tell them what I’m doing but it’s just whatever I’m doing at the time. So if I’m #Reakdogginit, I might be driving. But I’m #Reakdogginit, I’m being me. I might be playing a video game, but I’m #Reakdogginit. I’m just chillin. I might be practicing on my guitar, so I’m #Reakdogginit. These are things that I do to keep my mind at ease, so I’m doing me, I’m #Reakdogginit.
B411: Well that will make a lot of people happy!
JS: I kind of like the fact that they don’t know. I’m just doing me. And that’s another thing, for me, it was always a foundation for me to have them. I’m not a reactive person, I’m a pro active person. So that’s me encouraging my self to keep doing what I’m doing. Don’t worry about what no one else is doing.
B411: That will make you crazy!
JS: I don’t get caught up in what another person is doing. I congratulate people. I’m moving forward. I’m going to focus on what I’m doing and keep my eyes on what I feel like my vision is and keep working at that. That’s the main reason for the #Reakdogginit thing.
B411: You talk about being you, I was looking up your basketball history. I was reading one of the scouting reports about you and they said something really interesting. Somebody saw something there, and said you make everybody better when you were playing ball. They talked about your skill set. But they said you make everybody on the court better. Which is high praise. and I think that’s really true.
You’re an honest, sharing, and caring person. I’m sure when you played ball, you fed the ball to other people. But you also set picks to get somebody an open shot. You found the open guy, you laid it out and everybody saw that, and everybody tries a little bit harder. I see that in your music, in what you do with the band. It’s very lifting.
JS: A lot of times, when you’re a leader – I’ve been a leader since I can remember. When I started playing ball, 8, 9, 10 years old, I was always the leader of the team. Being a leader doesn’t mean the person who takes all the shots. Leader doesn’t mean the person who takes all the money. Leader doesn’t mean the person who tells everybody what to do. A leader is a thing that keeps everybody together. The leader always makes the best decision for the situation. That’s why Michael Jordan got the ball all the time, because he had an honest heart when trying to win the game. How many times have you seen him pass the ball to Steve Kerr and he won the game? Or Paxton? I even saw him pass one to Bill Wennington, for God’s sake! [laughing]
B411: Damn, now that’s a leader!
JS: You can talk about LeBron James. How many times does he make a play to win a game and it isn’t necessarily about him shooting the ball.
B411: LeBron seems to have struggled with that a little bit, but he seems to have found it. It’s hard. You know how hard it is when you’ve got 24/7 eyes on you. He was trying. He was working on that a lot this year and he was getting a lot of flak for it. Because he would pass to D.Wade or Bosch. And people would say, he should take the shot. But you understand.
A lot of people who never played a competitive level of sports that they don’t understand the whole meshing of teamwork.
JS: He could score 50 every night, but if he loses, it’s nothing. That’s the same mentality I took with my band. When I first started, I told them, this is bigger than me. Because I can’t do it by myself. I wouldn’t have started a band otherwise. I need those cats to be who they are so I can be who I need to be. And the foundation part, I talk with them about it all the time. People give me a lot of credit, and they give the band a lot of credit to. But without the band having that foundation up under me, when I’m doing what I need to do, I wouldn’t be as effective as I am now if they weren’t. Michael Jordan never won a championship until Scotty Pippin and Horace Grant came. LeBron didn’t win a championship when he was in Cleveland. A lot of people can’t even name his teammates when he was in Cleveland.
B411: That’s true, I can’t!
JS: If the team isn’t moving forward, if you don’t have the teammates – then it’s going to hurt the team. To be a good leader, you’ve got to know how to be a good teammate first. I’ve learned how to do that. It’s a humbling experience man! It’s just a great experience to have. And some people never get that. Some people go a lifetime and never grasp that concept. I thank god for insight. For being able to see certain things, for him giving me insight to be able to see what I need to correct, some of what I need to change. It’s a daily process. Everybody talks about the guy that’s in front, good or bad, that’s why the guy that’s in front has got to have Teflon skin. You’ve got to be strong minded. You’ve got to be able to take the good with the bad.
B411: Even if it’s not called for.
JS: Sometimes people say Jarekus’ band was crazy, the did some crazy stuff the other day. You’ve got to be able to take full responsibility for it, that’s why I’ve got to be a good leader and teach my band how they should act. How they should conduct themselves. How they should do this and do that. Because that’s the only way were going to move forward.
B411: Right, because it’s not just you. It’s not just Jarekus. It’s the band. I know. Every time I see them, I tell them, especially now that you guys are getting some play. Getting some light. I tell them Jarekus is great, but you guys are also great. I know that Jarekus thinks of everybody as one. It’s my way of telling them that they’re good. And also that they’re important. I hope that when it comes from someone else, they really understand that they do count.
JS: Sometimes I don’t say certain things because I don’t want to sound like a broken record. When someone says something to the band, and they echo what you’ve been saying, it comes across as a lot better. They’re used to be barking at them.
B411: Where are else is going on?
JS: I just want to thank everybody who did something to help me. Anybody who ever came to a show because my name was on it. Anybody who ever bought a CD because my name was on it. That means a lot to me. That’s success to me to know that I’m inspiring other people. That people that email me or Facebook me or tweet my lyrics to me and get a joy out of it, and my lyrics help somebody get thru a certain thing. I’ve been getting so much love from a lyrical standpoint, from a song writing standpoint. I want to thank Blues411, because you always talk about my lyrics. I saw Leslie saying some things about my lyrics. If Bruce and Alligator never would have given me the chance to have this opportunity to convey the things that I’m trying to say thru music, then a lot of this recognition I wouldn’t be getting. The Alligator family is really supportive. They send me text messages encouraging me. The whole staff is just extremely nice, they’re self-motivated people. That’s a testament to Bruce, because Bruce finds a person that’s young and driven and that’s smart and works hard, he reels them and genuinely takes care of them like they’re his own children. He’s genuinely given me advice like his own children. He’s supportive and he’s there for me. They’ve all done me the same way, so it’s like a big labor of love at Alligator Records. I’m so excited to be there. I’m blessed.
B411: Well you deserve to be there.
JS: Well I’ve also got to thank Peggy Brown
B411: Downtown Peggy Brown, she is an amazing lady.
We’ll see you at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival on Sunday July 27. You’re doing two shows – one on the main stage and one on the adventure center stage.
JS: Yes we are. Thanks so much Chef Jimi! We’ll see you soon.
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411