A Baker’s Dozen of Blues: April 13, 2015


BakersDozen15Roundin’ third and headed for home” is what Chuck Berry sang in “Brown-eyed Handsome Man” and a few decades later John Fogerty used that very same line in his big hit “Centerfield”

Well that just about captures all that is going on with us this week, we are ‘headed home’ after the glorious Tampa Bay Blues Festival, look for our Smugmug photo galleries from day 1 & day 2. now and day 3 is up and loading (a long night Sunday night) Also hope you were checking in on our facebook page to see live on the spot shots of all the action. A shout out to Ronnie Earl for his spirit and musicianship – yep again – he was jamming on Sunday and pleasing everyone in the crowd. Hey for all those new friends we made here is a link for the Blues411 store on Zazzle, enjoy shopping!

downloadIt also directly relates to our Amuse Bouche this week – Baseball. No not everyone is a baseball fan, but that don’t confront me. Bill Wax, Bob Sek, Watermelon Slim, George Thorogood. Jay Sieleman, Vinny Marini, Doug MacLeod, Sterling Koch, yeah I could go on (Ricky Stevens) all are big time fans of the National Pastime. So we are a week late, but our heart is in the right place at the right time as we salute baseball and the blues. It is our second hour of the show.

One woman who can throw the heater with her vocal arsenal is Shaun Murphy, and she holds the top slot on our chart this week. Her latest release ‘Loretta‘ is a classic in the rock-blues line-up of music.

2015GTBB-200-AD-1The Ghost Town Blues Band makes their rookie debut on the BDOB chart and air play list. Their brand spanking new release is garnering acclaim from around the world – so be sure you scout them out and draft them into your rotation for a sure winner. Our featured image shows GTBB’s drummer Preston McEwen tuning his sweep broom on the pitcher’s mound at Jackie Robinson field, in Daytona, FL. The other photos below, are also from Daytona. They feature Jeff Jensen, John Nemeth Matt Isbell hamming the mound a la Mount Rushmore. Billy Gibson Chefjimi discussing the uses of a harp on the mound. Finally the manager called for relief with Go-Go Ray taking on a serious pose to beat down the opposition with a key save.
To read an earlier examination of baseball & the blues featuring some of the folks mentioned here visit:

A Baker’s Dozen of Blues, on MojoWax Radio presented by Blues MusicMagazine at

Broadcast times are as follows:
 – 10pm EST
Wednesday – Noon EST
 –  11pm EST
 –  4pm EST

Baker’s Dozen: Current Chart & Playlist on Radio Show 

CW LW CD TITLE Artist/ Web Site Track#/Title
1 2 Loretta Shaun Murphy 5. Strange Life
2 2 Fat Man’s Shine Palor Smokin’ Joe Kubek & B’Nois King 7. Brown Bomba Mojo*
3 5 Morose Elephant Jeff Jensen 6. What’s the Matter With The Mill*
4 4 LIVE from the Park Theatre Jimmi & The Band of Souls 3. Sweet Jesus Blues
5 5 Stranded Greg Nagy 7. Still Doing Fine*
6 6 Terraplane Steve Earle & The Dukes 4. Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now
7 8 Memphis Blue Sweet, Strong & Tight Barbara Blue 9. Sweet, Strong & Tight*
8 9 Live & Extended Brandon Santini 5. Have A Good Time*
9 10 Tough Love Tinsley Ellis 2. Midnight Ride*
10 11 Brother Sun Sister Moon Brother Sun Sister Moon 8. My Memphis Blues
11 12 Too Many Men Eight O’Five Jive 7. Feed The Monkeys
12 13 Double EP Dave Muskett 1. Pet That Thing
13 ~ Hard Road To Hoe Ghost Town Blues Band 7. Tied My Worries To A Stone*

*new track

Chef’s Suggestions: The Stuff Ya Gotta Watch

Lucky Dog Brad Absher & Swamp Royale 5. Miss Your Water
Let It Rain Deb Ryder 9. Let It Rain
Faded But Not Gone Big Dave MacLean 5. Sittin On A Fence
Shaman Lover Mary Hott 2. Shaman Lover
Can of Gas & A Match The Bush League 10 Death of Robert
In The Mix Bernard Allison 7. I Had It All The Time
Down By The Bayou JeConte 1. Down By The Bayou
Cakewalk Voodoo Walters 3. Girl On A Scooter
If You Think It’s Hot Here Mike Henderson Band 1. Wanta Know Why
You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down Low Society 9. No Money Down
Exactly Like This Doug MacLeod 9. Raylene
Electric Field Holler Anthony Gomes 7. The Blues Ain’t The Blues No More

Amuse Bouche: Baseball and the Blues






Dr. John Take Me Out To The Ball Game
Branford Marsalis Star Spangled Banner
Gary Allegretto Throwin’ Heat
Scat Springs You’ve Got To Hit The Right Lick
Mabel Scott Baseball Boogie
Dave Frishberg Van Lingle Mungo
Jerry Jeff Walker Nolan Ryan
Joe Cocker Catfish
Les Brown Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio
Treniers Say Hey
Buddy Johnson Did Ya See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball
Watermelon Slim Max The Baseball Clown
Sister Wynonna Carr The Ball Game
Chuck Berry Brown Eyed Handsome Man
John Fogerty Centerfield
Abbott & Costello Who’s on First

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2015
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411


Lionel Young Band: The Road To The IBC (re-post/edit)

Yes, we have done it again. With the IBC just a shot away I recalled that we had interviewed Lionel Young about his 2 – yes 2 – IBC titles. One for the band category and one for solo/duo category (the only one to do this).
So here is an edited version (as much as I could) for y’all to read and get jiggy with.
*****Be sure to see Lionel and Johnny Long at this years IBC at The Rum Boogie Cafe Saturday, January 24th from 5:30-9:30.  Also rumor has it he will be appearing at Jenn Ocken’s ‘Blues On Beale Street: Memoirs of IBC” VIP party at Silly Goose on Thursday, 2:00-4:00.

Oh wait he might even be the man about town, so keep your eyes peeled for this super artist.

Lionel Young is the first double champion in the history of the IBC. Lionel Young won the 2008 IBC in the solo-duo category, and the 2011 International Blues Challenge (IBC) band competition as The Lionel Young.

I first met Lionel on the October 2009 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, the infamous ‘cruise to nowhere’. That was the cruise that ran into hurricanes and we did donuts in the Pacific Ocean. It seemed that Lionel was everywhere on that cruise, whether it be playing as a band or jamming in with Debbie Davies, Fiona Boyes and the historic late night jams. He was impressive not only in his musical prowess but also for his openness and friendliness.
I wanted to speak to him because he has roots in Rochester, NY – adopted home of Son House (and me).


B411: You have won the International Blues Challenge twice now, one in 2008 for Solo/Duo, and in 2011 as a Band, congrats !
What made you ‘go back to the drawing board’ and form/re-form as a group?

LY: When I did the IBC the first time in 2008, I originally wanted to bring a band. The seed was sown then to come back and do it that way. It’s just so much funner to play music with others than by your self. It was always in the back of my mind. That’s why there were 6 of us in Memphis.

B411: How has the dynamic changed within the band, and do you think this is the best vehicle for what you are playing?

LY: The dynamic is in the process of shifting from being focused on doing our very best at the IBC to conquering the world as we know it. I’m having a little fun with this question but that answer is partly accurate. We want to focus on touring well, playing with the same commitment,drive and integrity that we had in Memphis. I want us to set our sights higher in the recording department by aiming for a BMA or eventually a Grammy. I’m not sure if it’s the best vehicle for what I’m getting into or not. I’m sure it fun though. It’s kind of like driving a high powered car. It’s more of a luxury. I still like to play by myself too, but I prefer to play with others.

B411: Speaking of winning the IBC’s, did you learn anything about the process, and intimacies of the Challenge, the first time that helped you prepare for the second, and resoundingly successful second attempt?

Lionel YoungLY: Yes I did. I hate to sound cliche, but the more time you put into preparation, the better you’ll do at anything you want to do. We spent a lot of time preparing. I wanted to do my best to put us in a position to win. First, I picked the best players I could find. There I started backwards. I started with the sound I wanted in my head first and picked musicians who best fit that image. Most, but not all were already my friends but friendship wasn’t a priority. Some I’d played with a lot, some not so much. The most important thing was that they were great players that took pride in themselves and the way they played and knew how to play in the texture of the band. Before we played a note to prepare for the local preliminary rounds of the IBC, we worked backwards starting with the judging criteria. We’d talk about everything we did and would choose music according to the judging criteria, trying to maximize the heavier criteria like blues content, showing instrumental and vocal talent. We picked music that showed a good variety of rhythms and feels. We tried to be as original as we could be choosing songs that we wrote. If we did any covers they wouldn’t be something you’d hear at a blues jam. They’d have to serve the purpose of scoring high in other criteria. We dressed up and had a blues dance instructor help us with stage presence & stage show issues. We went in the studio and recorded the “on the way to Memphis” CD which prepared us musically to have a CD’s worth of music really down and tight.

That was one of the hardest things we did. We timed everything, both the songs individually and sets as a whole so we wouldn’t go over. The recording helped us with that. We even took a chance and did an all acapella song that ended up being a our secret weapon. It was a chance to score high in vocal talent if we did it well. We covered Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home”. Not an original tune but an original way of doing it. We tried to do what I knew other bands wouldn’t do to set us apart, like play a real slow blues or play real quiet or with good dynamics.

I knew that making decisions to do stuff that set us apart would be advantageous going into the first IBC in 2008. Almost everyone else in the situation tries to bang you over the head with their music. The IBC a high pressure situation. Because of that we knew that most acts would play louder and faster but not slower and quieter. That’s something I really learned from Josef Gingold, one of my violin teachers. He unlike most people, could play so quiet and beautiful, it would take your breath away. One thing I noticed about guys like BB and Buddy Guy and all the really good bands is that they can play really quiet. People listen harder and get sucked in. All this equipment and watts and amps doesn’t matter as much. Don’t get me wrong, I like to play loud and proud like anyone else. That’s something that just feels good, but loud noises scare the little children and take away many people’s ability to hear. Also, I really tried to connect with the audience by simply looking up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do that and how important it is to do. Most people want to feel something, a connection to you of some kind. That’s just another thing to think about for any performer. It’s really why you’re there.

B411: Where there differences in the approach you took for these two different categories or was it about the same?

LY: The approach I took was the same, working backwards from the judging criteria. The difference between the two was that I had much longer to prepare for the band which was needed. Getting 6 people on the same page on anything is tough enough. Just getting 6 in demand musicians in the same room for a rehearsal can be challenging. Naturally, 6 people are harder to manage than just one. In 2008 with the solo/duo, I really didn’t get serious until the weekend before the contest. Like many who go to the IBC, there was a send off performance before we left. I felt I played terrible there so I got to work and prepared seriously, practicing for as many hours as I could. In a way it felt like I’d been preparing for it all my life, but if I didn’t really have what I wanted to do down, I would have felt that I wasted an opportunity . I learned an important lesson. Sometimes playing badly can be good for you. It can spur you on to play well later.

B411: You were taking violin lessons when you were six years old at The Eastman.  How did this happen?

LY: It happened this way. My mother saw an article in the local newspaper about a woman who was going to start teaching violin a revolutionary new way. Her name was Anastasia Jempelis. The way that she was teaching is called the Suzuki Method derived from a man from Japan, Shinichi Suzuki. It focused on a thing called the mother tongue method, which is a way of learning music on an instrument by ear or imitation.

B411: Who were your early influences, and who would you say are at your musical Roots?

LY: I would say my earliest strong musical influence was from my family, which was very musical. My mother played piano and organ very well. She played organ in the church we went to. Both of my parents had strong musical tastes. My dad grew up in New Orleans & had lots of records, mostly jazz. My sister was a good pianist in her own right and listened to a lot of soul, R&B and funk. I would often raid my dad and sisters record collections so their music got into my musical veins. My favorites were people to listen to out of their collections were Stevie Wonder, RayCharles, James Brown, Aretha, Miles Davis, and Funkadelic. This was along with the fact that my brother played the cello and I played violin early in our lives. I was 6 and he was 5 when we started. My brother now plays in the Boston Symphony. I consider us lucky to have lived in a city like Rochester and have an Eastman School of Music to go to. Our teachers and fellow students became strong influences. Every week we were exposed to high level musicians playing. Those were my strongest earlier influences. It was later on that I became obsessed with Hendrix and the Beatles, and even later after digging up their influences when I caught the blues & boogie woogie flu that I felt I had to play the blues. Also, I was a good researcher. I’d go find out about and listen to all of these old records for hours on hours. For a little while in high school, I got so obsessed with violin music and the blues, that I’d skip school and go to the library to listen to and later play music all day. How square is that? I think at one point I skipped a couple weeks straight doing nothing but that until it was found out. I got into a little trouble with the school and my folks. It was my passion and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped yet.

B411: I saw you on the October 2009 Bluescruise, and was blown away with your playing and stage presence, it was warm and affable, yet you took no prisoners when you played. It seems to me there is a large difference between classical performances and blues performances, and crowds – do you like the engaging persona of blues audiences, and did you find this in classical performances ?

LY: Here’s what I’ve found about those audiences. I don’t think that there is that much difference. People are people. The music is either good or bad. When the music is good, classical or blues audience will react to it. I’ve seen and experienced classical audiences go nuts crazy over a good performance. It could have a deep effect on you like it did me sometimes. I remember seeing a Vladimir Horowitz recital, and an Ornette Coleman show not long after that had about the same lasting good effect on me. They both gave me so much energy that you almost feel like you could run through a brick wall.

B411: Can you tell us some more about your classical training, and some of the events you played at thru those connections?

LY: Some the more memorable events were traveling to Europe, specifically Austria and Switzerland as a teenager with the Pittsburgh Youth Orchestra, getting a full scholarship to Indiana University and studying with Josef Gingold. Playing in LA for part of the summer at Universal Pictures Studio Orchestra, playing at Carnegie Hall in New York, going to the Olympics in “88 in Seoul Korea with the National Repertory Orchestra.

B411:Would you say these prepared you for the move to the blues scene?

LY: Most definitely these prepared me to move to the blues scene. Any time spent in front of an audience prepares you for any other time. Being in front of an audience isn’t natural but becomes more natural with practice. That’s why a lot of people get stage fright. I got it too. That doesn’t happen much any more. I get a little anxious sometimes, but not like when I was a kid when my legs would shake and my mouth would be dry and it was hard enough to stand there and almost impossible to make music. You have to relax and breathe. No matter what kind of music you’re playing, you can only communicate your state of being.

B411: The Blues, why? Did it just present itself to you one day, or was it always there waiting to be discovered by you?

LY: I think in a previous life, I played the blues guitar or bass. For a while, I tried to play with a slide on the violin. It almost worked but it wasn’t quite right. It was when I first took a slide to guitar that I really felt that I’d done it before. Everything just fit. I seemed to know where things were without any real practice. The real blues is always there waiting to be discovered by everybody. It seems like it was always there in my life. Why not blues? It’s great music and I love it. It’s changed me and I know it’s changed most of you. It shows up at transformation points, and turns negative situations into positive energy. It has everything I need in it. In it there’s a microcosm of everything else. It feels like it’s essence has always been here.

B411: There is a history of violin in the Blues, from the Jug Bands, to the Folksy Good Time Music of the 60’s, to Papa John Creach – did any of this inspire you, or encourage you to pursue the

LY: To tell you the truth, no it didn’t really encourage me to pursue playing the blues though I wish I could say it did. I was more into the general sound of the Blues. As we all know, it would appear in all kinds of music and in many ways like for me Aretha or Count Basie or Ray Charles. I was more shock influenced by the sound of Hendrix, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf & John Lee Hooker. It was later when I heard Charlie Patton or early Muddy or the Mississippi Sheiks and Sugar Cane Harris that I realized that the violin had been there all along. By then in my life I was already deep into the blues music, so it did inspire and encourage me but I’d already tried to play the sounds I heard on the violin. Nothing inspired me more that hearing Hendrix. I can still remember trying to imitate what he did on the only thing I knew how to play at the time, the violin. I think that the violin was kind of fazed out of the blues and popular music. My guess as to why that happened is that it probably had to do with how it was perceived, like it was old fashioned or it was king in some bygone musical era. Also, I think that this happened partly because it wasn’t loud enough compared tohorns and later the electric Guitar. I got a chance to speak with Claude Fiddler Williams a few years ago (1999) in Kansas City. He played violin and guitar with Count Basie. He told me that as a condition to get signed, John Hammond senior told Count that he had to get rid of the strings, so he was out.

IMG_9689_7422_edited-1I believe that the time for the violin to be out of the blues and other popular music is forever moved to the past. I see it coming back. There’s just too many of us violin players and there are so many newer electric violins that volume isn’t an issue any more. I’m so glad you asked this question. In a way for me, when I saw it, it was like opening Pandora’s box. I sincerely believe that part of what my spirit in this body is here to do is tied in with the violin and is connected with winning the IBC in Memphis this year. The violin has enjoyed many years of being the alpha or dominant instrument in the orchestra. I’m in love with it. It can do so many different things musically. It’s said to be the musical instrument most like the human voice. I could see no reason why it wouldn’t have a more prominent place in blues or other popular music. I have to admit that in coming to this years IBC, I had something to prove.

After I won the solo/duo part of the IBC in 2008, I was a little bothered at how I was perceived. I’m not whining, I’m just saying. I’d hear whisperings about how the only reason I won was because I was playing a “novelty instrument”. That’s bullshit! I heard that some people were even upset that a non guitar player won and that my winning was just a fluke. That attitude (when I’d find it) really pissed me off. It discounted how hard I worked and the true love I had for the blues and all the great people that influenced me. It doesn’t matter what you play as much as how you play, who you are and what you have to say. I really believe that. If someone played fork or a paper plate really well and could sing and make you feel something, theoretically they should have be given the same consideration at the IBC as someone playing a guitar, piano or harmonica. I saw that if I really believed that, I had to prove it and win the IBC again against all odds. By that I mean playing a violin primarily and winning twice. Winning once is hard enough. That can be a charm or a curse. It can be an obstacle if you attempt to do it again because the IBC process is based on subjective opinions. It’s not who makes the most baskets or who crosses the finish line first. A judge could consciously or unconsciously score you less high just because you won it before giving someone else a chance. I saw that happen so I knew that whatever I did had to be strong enough to overcome that too.

B411: Looking at your ‘set lists’ on-line, we’ve got everything from W.C. Handy, Sinatra, and Sly Stone to Count Basie and Jimi Hendrix. It sounds like my CD collection.
How do you go about selecting music to cover, what do you look for?

IMG_9492_7225_edited-1LY: First I get a panel of experts together and poll them on what covers they like. Then I use a computerized rating system. Just kidding. I play what’ll fit the situation or what I’d like to hear in the moment.

B411: Not to be overlooked, your songwriting stands well on it’s own. Do you have any influences as to style of writing, someone who you have heard and say ‘yeh that’s it’?

LY: I’ve heard a lot of people and said,”yea that’s it”. One of my best influences is a guy by the name of Johnny Long. He wrote and played lots of great originals. I know he’s recorded for Delta Groove records. I played with him for a while and he introduced be to Homesick James at one point. He’s just great. Everybody should know him. I wouldn’t be who I am in the blues world without his influence and example. I love the way Sonny Boy Williamson wrote a song. Always interesting and makes you think. In a much different way, I love Otis Taylor because he breaks new ground and writes about heavy stuff. I like James Taylor as a song writer and have met and played with him. Most of what I right about comes from my experience in one way or another. Lately I’ve been writing about warnings and concerns around the topics of our environment and what I envision happening in the next year and 1/2. The way I see where we’re at now is that we feel like we’ve been given platform to sing and speak on the challenges we’re facing as people who are facing extinction. That’s the stuff I care about. How are we gonna survive this next couple of years. Not just me, but everyone. I know that we’re better and stronger if we help each other. That’s part of why I take music so seriously. It brings people together. We need good music now today more than ever.

Until next time,

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
© 2011/2015
photos: Leslie K. Joseph

Interview: Jarekus Singleton

IMG_9736_edited-1Two 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.

IMG_3387_edited-1B411: 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.

IMG_3445_edited-2B411: 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.
IMG_0219_edited-1JS: 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.

IMG_0171_edited-1B411: 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
© 2014
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411

An early review of his first release ‘Heartfelt‘ from us in February 2013.
Of course his site, his preview in USA Today and his page at Alligator Records .

Interview: Justin Merrick-STAX Music Academy

STAX Museum

STAX Museum of American Soul Music

When in Memphis one of the key places to visit is the STAX Museum of American Soul Music, but right next door is the Stax Music Academy. Not many get to get to visit there, as it is an operating school. We were fortunate to be allowed in to talk and view what they do and have a chat up with Justin Merrick about what is a marvelous thing indeed going on there.

Blues411: We’re here at the Stax Music Academy in Memphis, and with us is Justin Merrick, the Artistic Director for Stax Music Academy. Thanks for taking the time to sit with us.
How long has the Stax Music Academy been around, and  what is it’s purpose?

Justin Merrick: It’s been in existence for 12 going on 13 years now. It has really seen some tremendous growth in the recent year and support from the community. There’s a lot of buy-in with the work that we’re doing. Our Vision is that we are Creating the Next Generation of Soul Communicators. Which is an awesome platform, as it serves so many capacities.
We have a during school program and an after school program. It’s called the SNAAP after school program. It’s Soul Nurtures Artistic and Academic Performance, and that’s really what we’re doing. I’d say the overall mission is that we helping to bridge the gap in under-served communities and provide them with supplements academically, culturally and leadership wise, thru the lens of music.

B4: The Stax Music Academy is under an umbrella of Soulsville?
JM: There’s a three-fold process. We all sit under the Soulsville Foundation. And there is the TSES which is the Soulsville Charter School, SMA – Stax Music Academy and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
What essentially has happened, the Museum represents the history and the Academy and the Charter School represent the future. The way we like to break down that future is we are both producing different platforms of achievement. The Charter School is focused on a rigorous academic environment that’s under-girded with a rich understanding of culture and music that specifically relates to Stax. And Stax Music Academy has been charged to handle all the music education that happens on the campus.

So we have several different branches. We have the Charter School initiative brand, where we’re teaching music education throughout the day. Which is more western-centered. We have an orchestra program, and we make sure we fuse all the ideas as to what Stax is and what Stax stands for in terms of popular music, blues music, jazz, all of those things are integrated into a classical curriculum.

Stax Academy of Music

Stax Music Academy & Charter School

With after school program, which is our bread and butter, which most people know about in terms of the music side of campus. The Music Academy tours all around. We’re always looking for opportunities, and we’re always looking for ways we can raise money so that we can continue to develop the ambassadorship that we’re trying to groom here at the academy. Where students are learning about Issac Hayes and Otis Redding. But not just limited to that, also the Michael Jacksons’ as well as the current contributors in the pop industry. The key is how all of that is connected to blues. Because blues is truly the father, or the grandfather or even the great-grandfather of what’s mapped out in America right now as American music.

Then we have the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. That is where we are starting to engage the community with educational programming. Where the Music Academy can be producing leadership components. Where it’s not necessarily driven by music but it’s driven by interest in music museum studies and cultural literacy and things like that, and how all 3 of these entities tie from the academic to the artistic to the cultural. Together grooming our productive citizens that come from this campus. One that understands holistically what blues music brings to the world, the global impact that Stax has had, and the rich understanding of how to be an effective leader with a major appreciation for the arts.

B4: I understand the blues thing, believe me, and Stax. Grew up, not in Memphis but NYC, and did that. But there just seems to be a void in the culture and holistic approach. Not only in the Afro-American Black community but in the world-wide community. We just seem a bit lost on any sense of self. I think that’s the amazing part that you’re doing, at least for me.

JM: I’m so glad that you see that. Because a lot of times, that goes unseen. And there’s tremendous amounts of work and value in that line of work. What I like to call it, specifically the work that’s being done at the Music Academy and drive in our summer music experience, is that we are trying to genetically connect or show the genetic connection of Memphians to the music industry. Right? Because it’s incredible.

I’m not originally from Memphis, that’s not something I can claim. I am a proud Memphian now, but not a native. It’s just incredible the breadth of history that has just spawned out of this community and continues to! When you take a look at what the cultural implications in terms of the lyrics of all of the songs and what this means, and how this form of music spawned out of the cotton fields has grown. It shows the evolution of a country that we should be proud of.

Justin Merrick, relaxed but focused

Justin Merrick,
relaxed but focused

I think that with this generation we are starting to see the importance of practicing the idea of self-actualization. I think that comes through music, through art in terms of being able to teach students value of who they are. So that when they graduate as a Senior, they understand what they’re contributing to the rest of the world. As we go into this global society, I want for everybody that’s graduating from this campus, and it’s a goal of the Stax Music Academy, that we’re producing strong Ambassadorship, but that they also understand how they fit into the rest of the fabric. Because until you understand the rest of the fabric, it’s hard to make those types of moves. And then, they are under-girded with the ability to not just pursue music but to pursue anything that you want from journalism to photography. But they have an amazing appreciation for this. And we can help create different pockets of how all this connects on a global level.

B4: Now, let me shift gears here, what about the summer program here?
JM: Yes! Yes!! The summer music experience, I think it’s really special. As a matter of fact I have a trip to London and the University of Kent in 2 weeks where they’re talking about potentially bringing 30 – 40 students next year to participate with the program. So it’s something that’s just growing tremendously. It’s a special experience. There’s nothing like this experience. I haven’t seen anything like it.

Stax Academy Students  April, Dallas, Tia

Stax Academy Students
April, Dallas, Tia

The experience is a culmination of music industry and popular music studied blended together, with a heavy integration of traditional pedagogies* from the academic stance. The summer music experience is called “Soul, Rock and Blues”. So I make it sound a lot more complicated that what it is. It’s what makes you feel good. At the end of the day, I don’t think we ever understand why we feel so good when we’re leaving a concert! Because it helps to uplift, and that’s the whole idea of the soul communication. But what is happening is, we select anywhere from 50 – 60 students from the Memphis area and then about 10 – 15 students from outside the Delta region. We’re visiting the idea of creating a summer residency. So that’s the evolution of where it’s going. But the students are learning from classes in Marketing as a solo artist, songwriting, music business, music production and Stax history. Those 5 things, I think if you have a great understanding of that, and how the Delta plays into that and how Blues is a fabric of American music and what we’re listening to today, helps to produce a knowledge base in the current music industry that I would love to see more of.

B4: Musicians today need that knowledge. They don’t know how to market themselves. They don’t know about copyrights. Well, how many copyrights do I need? Music? Lyrics?

Kirk wTia

Kirk Whalum with Tia

JM: And we’re arming them with this information. Then, they actually get to practice with a group of people that are just as passionate. The teachers are passionate but the students are really passionate! It’s a network of peers that have this amazing talent number one, because it’s merit based, and they’re learning how to write with each other. That’s what Stax was about! It is going over to the Lorraine Hotel and being able to write and pump out all these songs. Knock on Wood, right? And all of these things. I’ll play the Blues for You. These are songs that we’re looking at and we break it down from a cultural meaning, we break it down to an artistic meaning so we develop the craft. So that goes down into the second half of the day where the students have time to work on their individual craft.

We bring in teachers from across the country that teach pedagogy in terms of saxophone, voice, all rhythm section instruments – bass, drum, percussion – and they’re learning from experts. What’s really unique about that, is that the experts that we have come from a classical tradition and a folk tradition. Because there’s an oral tradition to blues music that has to be passed on. We had an artist, Lisa Henry, who received a couple Grammy nominations for blues. This year, we’re looking at, I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but Lalah Hathaway, to come in and work with the students. There’s an oral tradition at work here. Kirk Whalum, (Grammy Winner) who’s our Chief Creative Officer works with the students. It all ties into the first half of the day – so the songwriting, music business, music production and in the second half of the day they’re learning more about the individual craft.

B4: So what you are giving these students is a unique holistic opportunity that, not only allows them to play/create music  but to experience the entire process and better understand how it is all linked together, simply put, correct?

Stax Academy performing at the International Blues Challenge

Stax Academy performing at the International Blues Challenge

JM: I think what makes it a really unique experience is the idea that we’re bringing the folk tradition and the oral tradition together with the classical pedagogy as to how to preserve their instrument and to give them technique that allows them to be virtuosic in their approach to blues music. I think a lot of times we think of that as a dichotomy – not being the same thing where there can be virtuosity in the blues, but it’s there. There’s a spiritual connection in the music that we are trying to tap into at the Academy. Much of the work that’s being done here is soul communication and how to tap into and touch others. The performance practicum and the approach to that is different than what we learn in most traditional settings.

That’s the magic that’s being taught. So by the end of the 5 week experience, they have 5 weeks where they are entrenched with all these teachers, from 8 in the morning to 6 at night. Then, they put on a performance in an outdoor amphitheater, we had over 6 thousand, it was record setting last summer. People came from all over, and the students show them everything that they learned and it showcases songs that they’ve written.

B4: This is in downtown Memphis?
JM: This at the Levitt Shell, midtown Overton park. It started May 27th and the last one June 29th.
We want to make sure that we’re serving the Memphis community because it’s they who helped to spawn this. But it’s a fine line, because it’s something that should be shared as well – it’s global.
To be able to attract people from not only North Carolina, South Carolina, but even from Germany and London where they can participate.  Students that network, that leave at 6 o’clock every day, and stratifiy across Memphis, comes back and stay here. The work that will be created will be the new Memphis sound.

B4: And also it’s going to expand. Maybe you’ve got people from Germany who will take that home. And they’ll say look at this, look at what we’re doing.
JM: You know what’s crazy, that’s what sparked the trip to London People abroad get it. They get it. It’s amazing.

B4: We don’t do that anymore. I think we’ve started to compartmentalize everything –” it’s the Blues. Well that’s NOT the blues.” I don’t like that. I keep arguing rap and hip-hop are the current urban modern blues.I’m getting people in high spots saying “well, I don’t think so”. So I say, well, let’s talk about it!
JM: Those are platforms that we talk about in the summer music experience. I mean everybody has ears! The students are filling their brains and filling what will become their output, so we talk about how the body is an instrument because it is a vessel of all this knowledge and how you put all that knowledge on to paper or into a composition or into a work that you create will texture the rest of how the world will view what you’re doing.
So, we try to feed that knowledge. We have students that come in who have an amazing appreciation for rap, right?! Because that’s what’s going on right now. Neo-soul, soul music, rock. But when they supplement and when they get into the blues, I think they’re forever changed. I think it hits them in that final performance.

Dallas at IBC's this year. Started as a sax player...

Dallas at IBC’s this year.
Started as a sax player…

Because there’s something else in performing that style of repertoire that you connect with. You have to. Because it was fashioned by a journey. A journey that has its ups and downs. But that connection to the music is still there. And that’s the part that we’re trying to awaken. Even in the song writing experience. As we filter that and they’re listening to all of these things, by the end of that summer music experience, it’s so clear, it’s so evident in the way that they’re performing that there’s an intrinsic connection. What we’re really looking forward to is that the residency part that gives them the opportunity to have more outward expression. There’s so much instruction that’s going on during that time and shaping of views and perspectives and merging those ideas is the product that comes from that.

B4: So OK, in 200 words or less, sum it up for us, give us the low down on what’s going on here and what you’re doing.

Official and all that

Official and all that

JM:  I look at the work we’re doing here at the music academy as a sonar that we’re sending out thru the radio waves, thru the song writing waves, across the country. It creates a pulse. I want people to buy into what that pulse is. And if we can match one another in cadence with one another, there’s an industry to built. That’s already here and exists. And it will allow us to connect with one another in a meaningful way. At the end of the day, when we go to reflect on the work that’s being done here, the summer music experience, on this campus, what makes it so special, we say that this is the land where music grows. Grows from our very soul. Welcome to Soulsville! It’s all here. It’s just magic. Often you see tears in the audience. But that’s because we’re teaching people how to touch souls. And there’s something greater to that understanding.

*Pedagogy – the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411, courtesy of Stax Music Academy