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


A Baker’s Dozen Of Blues: June 2, 2014

A Baker's Dozen Of Blues

A Baker’s Dozen Of Blues

A great week of livin’ in South Carolina, tennis, much sun, live music in Port Royal with the Lauren Mitchell Band.
Man how did we do this stuff and work too????

Hope ya saw the Janiva Magness Interview, her new release on Fathead Records, “Original” is due out shortly, you can pre-order it from her web site  to help her out with that ‘debuted at #???” thing that we see on charts, the more pre-orders the higher they debut, so do your duty. Oh while we are talking interviews, keep them potatoes peeled for an chat with up and coming star Jarekus Singleton, in the upcoming weeks.

We featured the fore-mothers of the blues last week on our Baker’s Dozen of Blues Internet Radio Show, and we decided to run a little contest to see how well you knew these influential ladies. We were surprised at how many entries we got – so give us some time and we will let ya know who won. Thanks to all for entering!

This week we got another Lisa at the top slot, Lisa Mann. A truly remarkable singer, and bass player Lisa has been lighting up the Portland scene and she is a crown jewel out there. Get to know her music and you will see why!

New debuts on the play rack are IBC competitor Arthur Migliazza, and big sound band Back Pack Jones. These new additions are sure to inspire ya to dig deeper and give their music a serious listen.

Oh yeah, don’t forget that the Chicago Blues Festival is coming up – see ya there!

Our Amuse Bouche this week celebrates some June Blues Birthdays, not all of them just some who we thought might be cool to hear. So lock ‘n load, stick ‘n stay cos this is the place to be.

bcradio_edited-1A Baker’s Dozen of Blues, on MojoWax Radio presented by Blues Music Magazine at

Broadcast times are as follows:
Monday - 1pm EST
Tuesday – 10pm EST
Wednesday – Noon EST
Thursday –  11pm EST
Friday –  4pm EST
Saturday – 2pm EST

A Baker’s Dozen:

TW CD TITLE Artist/ Web Site Record Label Track#/Title
1 Move On Lisa Mann Self 1 Move On
2 Hornet’s Nest Joe Louis Walker Alligator Records 10 Gonna Take A Walk Outside
3 “He Digs Me” Sunday Wilde Self 13 Walk With Me
4 “30th Anniversary Special Edition” Blue Lunch Rip Cat Records 5 The Fidget
5 “Drivin Me Wild” Jonn Del Toro Richardson & Sean Carney Self 8 Slow Down
6 “First Name Lucky” Tweed Funk Self 1 Blues In My Soul
7 “Blues With Friends” Dixie Peach Big Shew Records 6 BOTTLE Hymn Of the Republic
8 “Refuse To Lose” Jarekus Singleton Alligator Records 5 Keep Pushin’
9 “This House” Shane Dwight Blues Band Electro Groove Records 6 Devil’s Noose
10 “Black Crow” Cathy Lemons Vizztone 5 You’re In My Town Now
11 “Bad Attitude” Johnny Drummer Earwig Records 3 Bit Her In The Butt
12 “Betsy’s Kitchen” Back Pack Jones Self 6 Even God Sings The Blues
13 “Laying It Down” Arthur Migliazza Hobemian Records 12 Professor Calling Me

Chef Suggestions:


Never Pet A Burning Dog Ron Tanski Self 9 What’s Cookin’
“Josh Hoyer & The Shadowboxers” Josh Hoyer & The Shadowboxers Self 3 Illusions
“Jigsaw Heart” Eden Brent Yellow Dog Records 8 Let’s Go Ahead and Fall In Love
St. Louis Times Jim Byrnes Black Hen Music 6 The Ducks Yas Yas
Hollywood Blvd. Raoul &The Big Time Big Time Records 5 Amphetamine
The Beautiful Bones Kelly Hunt 88 Records 7 The Beautiful Bones
Taboo Bob Corritore Delta Groove Records 3 Ruckus Rhythm
Unfinished Business Lil’ Ronnie & the Blues Beats Ellersoul Records 11 You Don’t have To Go Home
Happy Little Songs About Futility & Despair Bob Eike Soul Stew Records 2 My God’s Better Than Your God
“Mother Blues” Rachelle Coba Self 1 Never Been To Memphis
Giles Corey Stoned Soul Giles Corey’s Stoned Soul Delmark 7 Rita
Bluez of My Soul Dexter Allen Deep Rush Records 7 Bluez Party
The Blues Came A Calling Walter Trout Provogue/Mascot 8 Born In The City

Amuse Bouche: Happy Birthday June Babies! 

I Got To Make A Change Memphis Minnie Mississippi Blues 1897
Superfly Curtis Mayfield Funk Blast 1942
The World’s In A Tangle Jimmy Rogers His Best 1924
Crazy Mixed Up World James Harman Remembering Little Walter 1946
Higher & Higher Jackie Wilson The Ultimate Jackie Wilson 1934
I Ain’t Superstitious Howlin’ Wolf Chicago Blue 1910
Tina Marie Kenny Wayne Shepard 10 Days Out 1977
Sugar Coated Love Lazy Lester Best of . . . 1933
Can’t Go Home No More Clifton Chenier Louisiana Blues & Zydeco 1926
Knock On Wood Eddie Floyd Atlantic Soul Classics 1935
Hattie Blues Big Bill Broonzy Good Time Tonight 1893
Bumble Bee David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards Harmonica Blues 1915

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411

Interview: Janiva Magness – ‘Original’, In So Many Ways

Star Struck

I am very happy!

There are only a very few artists that connect directly to my soul, Janiva Magness is one of them. From the first time I saw her, I was awestruck. I had not seen any performer put her or their entire being into a song and what they were doing the way she did. Since then I have been a fan and we have grown to be friends. I am honored to be in that position.

Janiva does so much for the music and for life outside the music. She is a Spokesperson for Casey Family Programs National Foster Care Month Campaign (her sixth consecutive year) and an Ambassador for Foster Care Alumni of America, promoting National Foster Care Month. “It is a huge honor and a daunting responsibility. “Our fate doesn’t have to be our destiny,” she says. “I’m living proof of that. And I’m so very grateful.”

Please sit back and enjoy this chat between two friends, and one helluva artist.

Blues411: We’re here with Janiva Magness. And welcome! Thanks for taking the time out of your extremely busy hour before the BMA Ceremony.
Janiva Magness: It’s really busy, it’s Memphis baby! I’m really happy to be here Jimi and I’m of course grateful for the support.



B411: Well thank you. You have a release, Original, coming out in a few weeks. The last time I spoke to you, in probably January, you didn’t even have Memphis on the calendar to come for the BMAs.
JM: I didn’t. I didn’t think I could make this trip, and I’m really grateful to be wrong about that. Once again, it’s good to be wrong! (Laughing!) Street date is June 24th, that CD drops.

B411: That’s great. So is this a new label? Fathead Records?
JM: Correct

B411: Which I love the title. It just makes sense to me.
JM: It makes perfect sense to me. It’s my label – Fathead Records – which I’ve actually have for a very, very long time. But it’s been dormant. Meaning that I’ve put out two releases very early on in my making records segment of my career. Then, it basically went dormant as I went on to Blues Leaf Records then I went on to Northern Blues and then signed with Alligator for 3 records, which was about a 5 ½ – 6 year cycle. In the meantime, there were 3 Jeff Turmes records that came out on Fathead. So I’m back to Fathead Records. Fully independent. My publicist is referring to this as my declaration of true independence.

B411: That’s a good way to put it, that is a smart person you have working with you. So you brought up your
ex-husband – Jeff Turmes.
JM: Yep, the only husband I ever had. Or maybe ever will!

B411: Well we can work that, I do procuring on the side! (Lots of laughing) So, we recognize that Jeff is a pretty good song writer.
JM: He’s a really great song writer. He’s a very very gifted man.

B411: In your marriage and relationship with him, did he inspire you to want to write? Or did he inhibit you because you felt you could not live up to him? Or did it not matter at all?
JM: It totally mattered. But it’s not a finger pointing kind of thing. I wouldn’t credit him nor would I blame him for my lack of being willing to write songs during the time that we were together. He’s so talented. I’m sure I was intimidated by that. What if I was terrible at song writing? What if I wasn’t terrible, and that became a thing between us? You know what I mean? I just didn’t want to go there. I was perfectly fine with that. I had an in house writer as far as I was concerned.
B411: Absolutely. I was just curious. In the arts, in creativity, we are sometimes not necessarily aware of our intimidations. Not that I didn’t think of it as finger pointing, but it’s like well I’m not going to play with “THEM”, or oh my god, you’re James Cotton! Or, you’re Janiva Magnus. Aghhh!
JM:It was very much that for me personally and privately. And I didn’t realize my, the basis of my reluctance until after the fact. Hindsight is brutal!

Relaxed and Ready

Relaxed and Ready

B411: It’s 20/20. So this really is a true independence for you. I knew you were very excited about writing on your last Alligator release. So this is now even further along that path. It’s all originals? Or 7 originals that you’ve co-written?
JM:The record is called “Original”. There are 11 original songs and I’m co-writer on 7 of those 11. Which is a lot. Dude, that’s a lot!
B411: Is it easy now that you’ve given yourself to the muse?
JM: Mmmm. I love her! Easy would not be a word that I’d use to explain or articulate my experience with song writing. It is very hard. It is beautiful for me. It’s difficult and it’s beautiful. It’s cathartic. It’s terrifying. It’s all that, and a bag of chips.

B411: You are revealing that part of you that most of don’t even share with our mates. And you’re sharing with this broad audience. I understand it.
JM: It’s vulnerability for me. A huge vulnerability for me in a very public way. Most of my career, I’ve made an entire career out of being an interpreter of other people’s material. And I’ve been fine with that. However, the last release, “Stronger for It”, on Alligator, had 3 original songs, I was co-writer on 3 of those songs. That material was the most popular stuff with the audience and with folks in the media, radio, and writing about it. It was the most popular material. It was the most embraced. It blew my mind to step out on a stage, and the house is packed and I open my mouth and I go .. (singing) “The harder the words….” And 5 rows deep, which I can see 5 rows deep, everyone is mouthing the words out of the very first note along with me. And there is something completely transcendent about that. And that is some of the greatest love that there is between an audience and an artist. They are so in IT with me. They’ve listened to it enough times, they love it, that they’ll sing along right with me. They know all the words, and the melody and the stops and the go’s and all that stuff. So that’s a long winded way of saying that was the most popular material. So the next indicated action was that this record has got to be basically originals. That’s been the path from the beginning of let’s start writing songs and let’s start pulling things together. Between my producer and I – Dave Darling.

B411: Same producer. It seems to be working.
JM: Thank you. I’m so grateful to be working with him. He’s just wicked talented.


Style and Grace

B411: Did one of the songs you wrote, didn’t that win…
JM: Song of the year (2013 BMAs). “I Won’t Cry” by Janiva Magness and Dave Darling. What??!!!
B411: I was there and you were like ‘ahhh?’!
JM: Pretty much.

B411: People say you don’t find the blues, blues finds you.
JM: I believe that’s true.
B411:It found you and now you can pursue that path of song writing.
JM: I hope so. I hope that folks embrace this next record with the original songs. I hope that they like it. I’m not, Jimi, I’m not a person that assumes much. I just don’t. It’s never served me to make assumptions about stuff, or people’s behavior. But I do hope for that. Of the 7 co-writes that I have, 5 of them are with Dave and 2 of them are with a couple of Australian song writers – very talented – Lauren Bliss and Andrew Lowden. They call themselves Benedict Bliss. They’re just wonderful. Two of the heavy ballads are done with the 2 Aussies.

Sheer Force of Nature

Sheer Force of Nature

B411: That’s another thing about you. Even as an interpreter of other people’s songs, your ability to bring emotions, to bring hard, bawdy-edged. You can be pretty bawdy. But then you can drop a ballad that has tears in people’s eyes. That’s pretty remarkable. It’s the range and the ability to reach the audience. There’s no bull-shit in any of that, that you do.
JM: Thank you for saying that. I can only write what I know and I can only sing the experiences that I know. On this new record, it’s a whole other wheel-house of vulnerability because it is original material. Because they are primarily my songs. Meaning, I’m the writer. The level of naked, is kind of stark for me. Because it’s public. There’s an intensity. But I want to serve the idea of truth. I want whatever I do to be as high a quality as I can bring to it. I don’t want to serve the idea of mediocrity. I don’t want to serve the idea of good enough. I believe it. There’s a saying… “Good enough is the enemy of greatness.” And I am in interested in the latter. I’m interested in reaching for that. I hope, I always hope for that.

B411: From my side, I have no worries!
JM: (Laughing)
B411: You don’t have to assume. We’re not playing stock market here, we’re not “past performance has no indicator of the future.” I tend to think you’re a power hitter baby, you’re a power hitter who knocks it out of the park consistently.
JM: Wow! Thanks.
B411: So I’m pretty confident that this will be great. Now, we need to get ourselves spiffed up for the BMAs!

JM: There’s one thing I’d like to say. Pre-orders for the new disc are available on We’d love for folks to go on there and go ahead and order the CD because all of those pre-order numbers, because I’m the record company.
Now I’m the artist AND the record company. So all those numbers for pre-orders actually go into the first week of sales. The first week of record sales in terms of charts. And that’s really important stuff.

B411: Got it. Release date again?
JM: June 24th.
B411: And we can pre-order until the 24th?
JM: Actually you can order all the way thru the week of 24th.
B411: Thank you again. And I’ll be listening as will many others I know.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411, Courtesy Of Artist.