My Background in The Blues

When I was a kid in the early 1980’s I learned my first harmonica riffs from an older gentleman named ‘Pat’. He was an accomplished harmonica player, traveling performer, and teacher who had the good fortune to jam with none other than the great Sonny Terry. I learned quite a bit from him, not only music, but what strange things he had witnessed in the deep south — Hoodoo rituals and how it tied into the notion of selling your soul to the devil at a crossroads. His words never strayed far from my mind, and as I started to learn the blues harp and guitar I never looked at two meeting roads the same way again.

I had friends in Europe who were buskers who panned out a humble living playing inside taverns and on the street, and on a whim I decided to join them when I was 19 years old. Once there, I went in search for my Southern Italian family. I visited with my cousins and was smitten by their hospitality. The longer I chose to travel around Europe the more I started drifting from playing. I gravitated to a ritual of bar hoping, and staying awake until dawn.

For three years I made a living there, earning my wages in coins from my solo performances, hitchhiking from town to town, and sleeping in cheap hotels. I played blues and folk songs, inside bars, restaurants and sidewalks all throughout southern France, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria and Sweden. My favorite cities to busk were Antwerp, Munich, and Stockholm.

A decade later, I moved around the United States, choosing to sleep in my car at campgrounds, shying away from material life, finding work when I could, roaming from Maine to Florida, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, eventually making my way to California.

Inevitably, I got tired of all the menial jobs. I wanted to find professional satisfaction in the music business, and so after an extensive search I was given an opportunity in Los Angeles, learning the craft of mixing at a reputable recording studio. I tracked, mixed and mastered demos for many struggling artists.

I’ve worked hard at my own creative career too, pitching, marketing and promoting my own songwriting. What surfaced over the years was both artistically inspirational and creatively challenging.

In the new music business, where a large number of artists self-produce and stream their music free online — and how sales of more popular commercial singles are still pushed to the front — even in the virtual store — it seemed nearly impossible for any hard working independent artists to be heard through all the competition, especially when considering the youtube factor.

I’ve been standing at my own crossroads for a while now, amazed at how fast the result of twenty-five years of hard work writing and recording over 250 original songs could end so silently — now those songs just sit in a kind of limbo inside my quiet dresser drawers.

But regardless of where music has taken me thus far, I have always gone back to playing the Blues, grabbing hold of the musical roots which nurtured me when I was a kid. Whenever I feel tired of all the commercial traps of the music business, I reach for my guitar, and I lose myself in playing a little ditty: Willie Brown’s M & O Blues, or T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday Blues, or others.

I consider myself fortunate, that I had the courage early on to walk the path less traveled, something most of my peers didn’t do. I did not waver from my own adventurous spirit. Now that I’ve made it to middle-age, I see many people in my generation who made compromises when they were younger, choosing material lives over a risky adventure. They all followed the usual doctrines after high school — materialism, proletarianism — they were stuck inside societal pressures that break people into submission in order to make them feel loved. I was the only one in my inner circle who saw the conditions of that love. I’d like to think I made the better choice, freely roaming around in my youth the way I did.

Today I’m semi-retired from writing and recording songs — I mean, who knows when I’ll be inspired again? I’m really enjoying just being part of the audience right now, listening to old Blues recordings of the last century. I’ll probably never stop picking along — listening in, holding my instrument, plucking in a Blues Scale here and there — just doing whatever I like without having to think about it too much.

I love reading all the great stories about the old Blues masters, and so I thought it would be cool to write a blog, taking into account my own experiences. I see it as a literary challenge to weave Blues History together with those auxiliaries which go along with the music — whether they are spiritual, political, economic or what have you.

I hope you enjoy my blog.



3 responses to “About

  1. Hello Jimmy, thanks for sharing such great stories and information about the blues and some of it’s many great musicians, good work. In your article titled The True Demons of Robert Leroy Johnson there is a picture of a dirt crossroads. Is that picture copywritten? Would you consider letting us possibly use that picture on the front of our new CD to be titled “Devil on a Dirt Road” We are the Jack Roberts Harvey Band. I can be reached at tony.grigsby@gmail.com

  2. theartofbluesmusic

    There are some photos online that are in the public domain, some not — I can not attest to the photo you’re referring to. I don’t claim to own any photos on my blog, just my written work. Let me know if that makes sense.

    Thanks for your kind words about my blog. I hope you visit here again. I’m sorting out a humble backlog of other articles I’ve written that I will soon post. When is your release? I’d love to mention it.

  3. Thanks for getting back to me, I appreciate it. I take it you do not remember where you got that crossroads photo from? Also thank you for asking about our cd release. I will keep you posted and send you a track or two when it’s out. Check our website on occasion as we rotate material. I just posted a medley of 3 songs we did at the IBC competition. I look forward to seeing more of your blogs, great info.