Go ahead. Laugh. 3 kids with a combined age of 37 playing the blues? Oh, and they're siblings? Riiiiiight.
So I was skeptical when I saw the front cover of The Homemade Jamz Blues Band's new CD Pay Me No Mind. Skeptical is actually putting it nicely, and so is novelty. I thought this has to be a joke. It has to! Doesn't it?
HJBB is lead by singer/guitarist Ryan Perry. The 15-year old Ryan is the oldest of the three Perry siblings and has been playing guitar since he was seven. 12-year old Kyle handles bass duties, while their younger sister, 9-year old Taya — yes, I said 9-years old — has been playing drums since she was six.
At this point, I was reaching for my thesaurus to keep from using the word "joke." I recently had the misfortune to spend some time on the juvenile talent show circuit and let me tell you something, the new lawyer in our "family" could spend a great many years suing some of these schools for truth in advertising. Elementary school talent shows are neither shows nor exhibitions of talent.
Farce. Sham. Charade. Shenanigans!
We've seen kids play music before and it's cute and some of them are even kind of good at it. But this isn't disposable pop music. These kids want to play the blues and that's a whole different ballgame. The blues is more than a style or a musical genre. It's a feeling, a mindset, and in some ways it's a lifestyle.
15-year olds in Tupelo had faced enough adversity to be able to distill those experiences into authentic blues music in 1908. Having your PS3 taken away in 2008 isn't the type of experience that's going to lead to the next "Hellhound on My Trail'" or "Rolling Stone." Some artists have made careers out of artifice and disguise. You can fake it in pop music and you can fake it in rock 'n' roll, but you can't fake it in the blues. It turns out these kids aren't.
HJBB took second place at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, competing against more than 100 other bands. Their bandwagon isn't huge…yet. But they have one and it is growing.
As I listened to the record I tried to reconcile the idea of three kids who likely haven't lived many of the experiences that typically give some the blues could actually be playing them, and I got to thinking. Maybe we're all born with certain emotions hardwired in the DNA and they don't all have to be experienced to be understood. I listen to Otis Rush and Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and the life I've known is so vastly different than than theirs, yet I connect with the music they've made.
There is an unspoken element in the blues that transcends language. Even if you've never walked a mile in those shoes, something in our humanity is awakened when we hear those sounds. What these kids lack in experience they seem to be learning by studying and embracing the tradition of those that came before them, and they're pretty good at it.
It makes me sad to think that these three kids will soon experience those sadnesses; we all do and they won't be any exception. The difference is the HJBB already speaks a language that might help them to understand and that might save them one day. That language might help them share a piece of the shared sorrows of life in our time. In the meantime, we get to hear the joyful exploration of three kids who have stumbled onto a path of discovery of one of the deepest, richest musical traditions in human history.
The bandwagon just got bigger by one. There are still seats. Hop on board. You won't be lonely.