Rockin’ Jake seeking a sound outside the blues |

Rockin’ Jake seeking a sound outside the blues

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

When the discussion turns to great blues cities, it’s not likely that Providence, Rhode Island, heads the list.But for the young man who would become harmonica player and singer Rockin’ Jake, few scenes could match Providence’s of the 1970s when it came to the blues.”There was a great blues scene in Rhode Island and Connecticut,” said Jake, who was born and raised in Connecticut, but within easy listening distance of Providence’s blues tones. “Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters, Roomful Of Blues and Duke Robillard. It was a great time to come up.”And New London, where I’m from, is right on I-95 so it was perfect routing for all those blues acts. Boston had the best blues scene outside of Austin, Texas. But the blues bands from Texas, like the Fabulous Thunderbirds, would get their musicians from Rhode Island.”The blues were not the first thing to hit the young Jake. But the rock music he grew up on was like an inexplicable magnet for him.”Musicians are, for some strange reasons, drawn to music somehow,” said Jake, who brings his band, Rockin’ Jake, to Aspen for a gig tonight at the Double Diamond. “I was always glued to the radio. I grew up in the ?60s, and grew up with great music, great popular soul music. There was great commercial music.”Finding the blues, though, took some digging. “I was into the Southern rock thing, the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker, and they were doing a blues thing.”Getting into the blues is like a detective thing ? you hear the Allman Brothers do ‘One Way Out,’ and you see it’s by Sonny Boy Williamson, so you check him out. And then one time, I went to see a guy named Sugar Ray Norcia, and I went and bought a harmonica.”Getting the harmonica was the first big step toward a music career for Rockin’ Jake. He spent most of the ?80s soaking up the sounds of the blues harmonica greats. But the next big step in his development came when he started to see that straight blues wasn’t the only thing he could do with his harmonica.”I had an epiphany,” said Jake. “I was really into that blues scene, through most of the ?80s, where everything had to sound a certain way. And it was frustrating for me, because I was into other things, and I wasn’t as good as [the Fabulous Thunderbirds’] Kim Wilson or Sugar Ray.”Jake focused in on Lee Oskar, the harmonica player from WAR, who played harmonica in a context of soul, Latin and rock as well as blues.”I listened to WAR, and heard Lee Oskar playing just what he wanted to play,” said Jake. “It was the most liberating thought I had.”One other key step for Jake was a late-?80s relocation ? to New Orleans, a place practically built on musicians playing just what they feel. It was a big change from his previous place of residence, in New Hampshire.”I was really, really, really bored. It was like living in an all-white room,” said Jake, who had attended the University of New Hampshire in the early ?80s. “It got to the point where I needed a major change in my life. So my girlfriend and I traveled to New Orleans.”The plan was to travel the country and settle in California. But, like a lot of people, we never got out of New Orleans. And New Orleans is never boring. I’ve been here 13 years and I feel like I just moved here.”The musical variety is at the heart of Jake’s love affair with New Orleans.Under the name Rockin’ Jake ? Jake doesn’t use, nor will he even reveal, his last name ? he recently released his third album, “Full-Time Work.” Backed by a group of Big Easy notables ? John Gros of Papa Grows Funk, Ron Johnson of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Ben Ellman and Theryl “Houseman” de’Clouet, and Brian Stoltz, guitarist of the Funky Meters who also produced “Full-Time Work” ? Jake is well outside the blues straitjacket.There’s plenty of New Orleans funk, blues-rock and touches of Cajun. He even closes the album with a soft, Delta-inspired version of “Amazing Grace.””That’s why I call it Rockin’ Jake Band, because it’s not a blues band,” said Jake, who also has a jazz-blues combo, Badmouth, that plays more sit-down-and-listen-type music. “I love blues, but I can’t be put into a box. Especially after moving to New Orleans, and being exposed to brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians and Meters-style funk. I love it all, so I’m trying to step outside the blues.”The goal is to make a unique sound, using the harmonica to play something that harmonicas don’t usually do.”Jake loves the musicians of New Orleans as much as he does the music. He could never see leaving New Orleans, with its emphasis on making music, for a city where the focus is on the business end of the music industry.”Everybody here still eats red beans and rice and turkey necks,” said Jake. “We’re not chasing after anything, any esteem. It’s not like Los Angeles. Nobody has even the slightest pretense. Everybody’s just trying to make it.”[Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is]

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