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Jason Ricci: A Different Shade of Blue

By Published: October 11, 2007
At that time [1995-1996] I was mostly playing with Junior's oldest son, David Malone Kimbrough, because he was the most ambitious and had the most gigs. You have to remember also that Junior was doing one tour a year, then to three gigs at House of Blues by plane, and he wasn't very popular because he was still alive and R.L. hadn't cut that record Ass Pocket of Whiskey with Dave Spencer for Epitaph, so those guys were pretty well obscure except to historians and ethnomusicologists.


Very few people cared at that time. Then came all this North Mississippi hype after Junior died, and they started calling R. L. a "punk crossover artist," and all that, then all these bands form around that sound. By that time I was off into Eddie Harris and Lou Donaldson and soul/jazz guys among other things. I had Kinney Kimbrough playing drums on a couple of tunes influenced by that sound on my record Down at the Juke, which was dedicated to Junior before he was sick and died.

AAJ: Commanding as much attention as you have so early in your career, is there anyone you would feel honored to open for? Living or dead, if it were possible to play with them again.

JR: I really would like to open for The Derek Trucks Band or tour with them. I think he's very smart and still unbelievably soulful. I am really into his ideas about music, spirituality and recording and everything. As far as someone dead goes, it would have to be Little Walter. I don't feel I would ever be worthy or deserving of opening for my biggest hero, John Coltrane.

AAJ: For the "gearheads" in our readership, what equipment do you play?

JR: Fender Bassman, Analog Delay, Boss Octave Pedal as a preamp/compressor only (no octaves) lately; here and there the kind of anti-feedback box and a Samson wireless system into an EV Re-10 mic or sometimes a [Shure SM]57. I play Hohner Harps under contract—Golden melodies. I tweak them myself and my buddy in Florida, Earl the Pearl, sells me his custom wood combs for those that are really cool if you like Golden Melodies, which I do.

AAJ: You have made the diatonic harp a chromatic. Do you play the chromatic? Are there chromatic artists you listen to?

JR: I want to start playing the chro again. But I keep breaking them and not fixing them. I like Stevie Wonder and Paul Delay on that instrument. In third position it's like an open tuned guitar for blues harp guys so I really only admire Mark Hummel, William Clarke, Norton Buffalo and George Smith. Basically in a jazz context I think it's an instrument that doesn't really sing very much. That will probably all change this year at SPAH [The Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica] though....

AAJ: What are some of the biggest issues facing today's musicians?

Jason Ricci JR: There's of course the obvious stuff we see every day on the road: People go out less than they used to. They've got DVDs and surround sound and home theaters and all that, not to mention kids and double income households etc....DUI's are punished more harshly then ever, so going out and drinking then driving home with any alcohol in your blood can result in prison time or the loss of your drivers license. Then you got these places banning cigarettes on top of that.

It's just a lot of work for a stable person to go out and see a band these days. The bands are getting paid hundreds of dollars less than they got in the '70s, and gas is two dollars a gallon and everything else costs way more now then it did then, not to mention no clubs want to take a chance on a decent national act on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. So how am I supposed to be able to afford to make my way to L.A. from Nashville playing Friday and Sat shows without flying?

Where art is concerned, I can only speak on the blues because that's the only circuit I've really worked completely.

[Now] I'm going to offend some people here, but I think as far as blues goes with some of the Caucasian performers, it's almost become like the old black face-vaudeville-medicine shows, and/or a history lesson. I think the whole retro movement, however fun and entertaining/danceable/skilled it may be, is missing the real spirit that blues music intended—which was, in addition to being fun and groovy, also very sincere and close to, if not part of, the lives of the performers who played and wrote it, which was evident in the lyrics as well as the music. You can hear the past in the recording techniques, the riffs, the equipment and everything.

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