Thursday, January 29, 2004
Rockin' Jake's body was born in Connecticut, but his soul was born in New Orleans. It took him 30 years to move there so body and soul could meet.
It's hard to believe that someone who can play the harmonica with deep Southern blues energy grew up on the mowed lawns of Connecticut and spent his 20s in New Hampshire.
During his time in New England, Rockin' Jake (who withholds his last name on stage and in the press) played straight-up blues. But his style changed drastically once he moved to the swamp.
"Before, I was playing Chicago- and Texas-style blues," Jake said. "Now, I don't even know what I play. I was influenced by all the music down there -- funk, zydeco and swamp music."
He was pulling sounds from the swamp blues out of nearby Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La. He listened to the music of Baton Rouge blues player Tabby Thomas, known as the King of Swamp Blues, and to the unique music of the Mardi Gras Indians. He let it all soak in and change the sounds he made with his harmonica.
As he absorbed it, the South absorbed him.
In his latest album, "Full-time Work," Jake sings the blues of the working musician with the line "Full-time work for part-time pay."
"It's a true story," he said. "As a musician, if you add up all your hours ... well, never figure out how much you make per hour. This is not the kind of job you punch in and out of. There's a lot more work than people see. They don't see the 20-hour drives."
Rockin' Jake was playing at a private party for a wealthy businessman one night, he said, when the host came over and said he wished he had Jake's life.
"You mean no money and no house?" Jake recalled replying. "You don't know the sacrifice it takes.
"But I couldn't imagine having a regular job. The engine breaks down and it's a drag, and I've been in some near-fatal accidents, but it's also been amazing. I've been able to play with many of my musical heroes."
As Jake's name grew in blues circles, he also became known as a great cook.
Rockin' Jake has his own brand of hot sauce called Badmouth and a song to go with it.
"I consider myself a barbecue aficionado," he said. "I love good barbecue, and I smoke some awesome ribs."
Rockin' Jake took first in the New Orleans Musicians Barbecue Cookoff for his brisket.
"I had some kitchen jobs in my early years, but I cook purely for pleasure. I love to eat good food, and I like it seasoned the way I like it -- hot," he said.
He tries to give the music and the food the same flavor.
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