Rockin' Jake is picking up the harmonica to benefit the Delaware Charitable Music foundation at a Friday performance at Bethany Blues. The bluesman talks about how blues fans are really detectives at heart, missing New Orleans and how Southern rock turned him onto Muddy Waters.
Lawrence Jacobs, better known as Rockin’ Jake, is a harmonica player whose funky sound is a hybrid of blues, zydeco and jazz with the feel of New Orleans. His influences range from Big Walter Horton to Muddy Waters to the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He’ll let students in on the life of a blues man with two workshops, but grown-ups will get to hear him, too, with a show at Bethany Blues in Lewes.
Q You grew up in New England — how did you get into the blues?
A I grew up in the ’70s, and believe it or not in New London, Conn., halfway between Boston and New York, there was a growing blues scene. Not only did I see a lot of great touring blues musicians, but there was an amazing scene that emanated in Providence, R.I. where Duke Robillard and Sugar Ray [& The Bluetones] and I grew up basically watching these guys. In retrospect, if I was in Iowa I might not have gotten that exposure.
In my early teens I started getting into the southern rock thing, and they’d usually do one blues song a night. There was something about that blues song that got me into it. Most blues lovers will tell you that being a blues fan is like being a private investigator: the more you learn about it, the more you learn there is to learn.
Q What made you pick up the harmonica?
A I had been into the blues for about a year, and went to see Sugar Ray and The Bluetones in ’74 when I was 15. I heard their harmonica, and I was like “That’s it.” The next day I went to buy a harmonica. Some music lovers, like me, can’t satisfy that craving by listening to it, I’ve gotta play it.
I was always a bad student, slightly lazy, so I decided on the harmonica and thought I’d be able to play right away. Now 35 years later, I’m getting the hang of it.
Q What did moving to New Orleans do for your sound?
A Moving down to New Orleans is going to be a huge cultural change, even if you’re from Baton Rouge. Moving just opened me up to all kinds of great music. I was living down there and seeing brass bands, traditional jazz, contemporary jazz, mardi gras, rhythm and blues, zydeco and Cajun — it’s blowing my mind. To this day, any day of the week you can get your mind blown by a band or a musician in New Orleans. The caliber is just insane.
I don’t know if I had made this change before I moved down or after, but there was a point that I realized you can’t sound like anybody else. I just wanna play what I wanna play. That was the most liberating thought ever. If I wanna play some Mardi Gras, some Cajun, some zydeco, I wanna do it because I love it. Why should the harmonica be limited, why can’t I use some sound effects the guitar uses?
Q You moved to St. Louis after Hurricane Katrina. Do you ever think of moving back to New Orleans?
A I consider it every day. I dream about it on a daily basis. There are a lot of considerations, though. My wife has a new job here and there are some considerations.
Q You did outreach in New Orleans schools and will be teaching local students here. What is the value of that for kids?
A I can’t emphasize the value of it too much. The shows I’ve done in schools have been the most rewarding I’ve ever done. Young kids generally don’t have filters, so the emotions you’re getting from them is real.
Delaware Charitable Music and these kinds of programs are important because a lot of the music and arts programs have been cut. It brings enjoyment to them and it opens their minds, too, because 99.9% haven’t heard the kind of music we’re going to play — we’re not the Jonas Brothers.
IF YOU GO
WHAT Rockin’ Jake Band
WHERE Bethany Blues, 18385 Coastal Highway, Lewes
WHEN 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26
MORE INFO Call 302-644-2500, 672-7022, or visit www.demusic.org or www.myspace.com/therockinjakeband
DELAWARE CHARITABLE MUSIC
Delaware Charitable Music is a non-profit that helps the state’s school music programs through clinics and concerts. The Rockin’ Jake Band’s performance is a fundraiser for the group. Prior to his concert, Rockin’ Jake will present two music clinics and concerts for students from WT Chipman Middle School and Positive Outcomes Charter School, both in Kent County, and Rehoboth Elementary School.